All horror fans are familiar with the bumbling of Morgan Creek and their insistence on kicking out experienced director and screenwriter Paul Schrader in exchange for the hack Renny Harlin to direct the prequel to “The Exorcist”. We didn’t need a prequel, but if the studios felt that they could have drained one more film from this franchise, then they could have and should have done it right in the first place. After all the problems, “Dominion” was finally released, and while it will never win any awards, I enjoyed it more, not to mention I found it to be more consistent in quality. “Dominion” is basically the same deal. Father Merrin, disenchanted with the church, goes out on archaeological expeditions, finds an underground church, and faces against the demon. Except, Schrader’s film is much more coherent and cohesive.
Schrader is never truly intent on wowing the audience, nor does he flash special effects at us. Instead his story is reliant more on low-key characterization and a better plot. With Harlin’s film, there was just nothing but a random series of sequences, but Schrader presents a reason for everything here. In “Dominion”, Merrin is conflicted with the church and his mind for a reason, not just for a plot device. His battle with vicious soldiers whom force him to decide which of a group of villagers should die, or else all of them die, is a very powerful scene, and Skarsgård handles the role much better this time. Schrader’s film goes for an angle that’s less horror and more drama, thus exploring Merrin’s lack of strength when confronting Pazusu again. “Dominion” explores a story with less blood for the sake of blood, and Schrader never seeks to give the audience gore for no reason, as Harlin exercises. Rather than having some girl who looks like Linda Blair stalking Merrin in the cheesiest sequence in “The Beginning”, we instead see Merrin battling Pazuzu psychologically, and Pazuzu offers temptation. Schrader’s film is much more cogent and correlates more with the original with less holes, and more of a bridge.
Sadly though, saying “Dominion” is better than “The Beginning” is like saying I’d rather be anally raped instead of having my nuts kicked repeatedly. Because while one is so utterly painful and violating, the other was so painful it eventually left me numb. Schrader’s version is boring. Really boring. I sat with my attention undivided and instead began to not only doze off, but I was wondering why I even liked anything with the word “Exorcist” in it. Schrader’s film is sadly so devoted to characterization he meanders back and forth, and even turns Father Merrin in to a supporting character right in the middle of the film in exchange for the younger priest who experiences the demon as well. While Harlin preferred to show gore and bad special effects over exploring the character of Father Merrin, Schrader prefers to examine his assistant, and the gradual effect of the evil on the African village instead of examining Merrin. Father Merrin should have been the central focus of the entire film. The story of Merrin is ripe with many possibilities for someone truly creative to create, and while Schrader is no hack, he just doesn’t handle the character of Merrin right.
Merrin is one of the most complex characters in cinema history who only appears in the film for a short period of time. Pair that up with two films which focus on Merrin, and they still couldn’t get him right, is a perfect argument for how quality in cinema has severely waned over the last thirty years. Merrin is still uninteresting, he’s still poorly written, and his confrontation with Pazusu is still so cheesy we can’t really think of a reason why he was so bruised and battered in his final battle with him. And, oh yes, there are still those damn horribly animated hyenas that pop up here. They’re so badly animated they almost resembled clay-mation. Who thought that would be a good scene in any movie? It’s still boring. But there’s no Renny Harlin. It’s still cheesy, but there’s no Renny Harlin. Sense a pattern? It’s true “Dominion” is a better prequel than “The Beginning”, but in the end, that’s not really saying much in either case. While the story is better, much of the problems created by Harlin’s version still exist in Schrader’s. Congratulations Morgan Creek, you fucked up twice!