Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist

August, 2004. The long awaited prequel to the classic (not in my eyes) horror film The Exorcist was released in theaters. It was a disaster. It was re-shot after the film's original director, Paul Schrader, turned in a slow-burn thriller instead of a full blown horror film. The suits at Morgan Creek hired Renny Harlin to remake the film as they saw fit and it was a gory mess of a film. Still, the interest was out there to see the original version of this film (I was one of them). Morgan Creek acknowledged that and decided to release the original cut in a limited amount of theatres. It has now been released on DVD just in time for Halloween.

In the end we've got a movie that's even worse.

So what's different about this version? Well, just about everything. In this story, Father Lancaster Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard), who died while attempting to exorcise the devil out of a little girl in the original film, is a priest who’s lost his faith after being forced by Nazis in Poland to select innocent civilians to be slaughtered as a show of force. Now in East Africa he works as an archaeologist, and uncovers a Christian church that was never supposed to have been built. Underneath the church is a pagan temple that was used to worship a devil of some kind, and from that point on strange things begin to happen around the dig site. A crippled boy begins to heal, the nearby cattle become aggressive (eating the predatory hyenas that would hunt them), a baby is stillborn and covered in maggots and the local tribesmen begin to go crazy. Merrin must regain his faith if he's going to stop this evil force from influencing everyone and everything.
Well the first thing you'll notice, if you've seen the Harlin version, is that this film takes it's time setting up the story and the characters. This is a welcome change that the Harlin version lacked in the extreme. The downside is that the first hour of the film, where all this exposition takes place, is pretty friggin’ boring! We are never given the chance to get into Merrin's character since all the other characters get more screen time than him. He's the LEAD for crying out loud! Young Father Francis, played haplessly by Gabriel Mann, is a fully developed character by the end of the film and Merrin, well, it's like the writers thought that all the info you'd need about him was what you got from the first film. It's a shame since he's better developed in Harlin's version.

The acting is pretty bad across the board. Stellan Skarsgard does his best with what he's given. He's a great actor and I give him credit for being willing to make the same movie twice over. Gabriel Mann sucks. Clara Bellar, who plays the dig site's doctor, sucks too (Izabella Scorupco, who plays this character in Harlin's version, was a lot better and hot to boot). The whole cast sucks except for Billy Crawford. This Filipino pop music star (he sang the theme to Pokemon: The First Movie), who plays the crippled Cheche is the only person who looks like they're actually trying. He is very convincing as the crippled and deformed hermit, and as he begins to heal due to the released evil he becomes rather creepy. In the end he turns in the best performance.

The FX are a joke. The CGI in Harlin's version were pretty bad (the CGI hyenas were laughable), but here they are even worse. When the big confrontation comes about the sky is filled with rainbow colors that surround the dig site. It is so dumb looking that I laughed out loud. The obvious green screen shots are terrible and the hyenas this time around look like they're out of a Playstation 1 game. It totally takes you out of the film.
The lighting is the other big problem. One major factor that can help to make a movie scarier than it really is is how the film is lit (just watch the House of Wax remake to see an excellent example of this). Well, every shot is overly bright, even the ones that take place underground and there is no colored texture to anything. It's boring to watch.

The story is a slow retread of other films. But even though we are forced to sit through one tedious scene after another, we expect there to be some kind of a cool payoff in the end. NOPE! The final climactic confrontation comes and goes with little effort on the part of the characters. The exorcism in the first film killed the two priests! Here Merrin barely bats an eyelash before it's over and he's fighting SATAN himself! Complete horse shit!

I'll cut to the chase. The movie is a waste. The script sucks, therefore the story sucks, therefore the movie sucks. No amount of tasty frosting would have helped it to be any better, not even an A-list director. It should have never been made. I never through I'd hear myself say this but Renny Harlin's version is a lot better.

Paul Schrader really seemed to have dropped the ball when it comes to this flick. I can see why the people at Morgan Creek decided to axe this film and remake it. It's not scary. It's not entertaining. It's barely watchable. I do feel sorry for Schrader. Getting spat on by the people who paid you to do your thing is horrible, but you did make a horrible film. If only this scenario would take place more often maybe we'd have less shit in cineplexes nowadays.

0.5 out of 5

*written 10/30/05

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