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Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist
File:Dominion A Prequel to the Exorcist poster.JPG
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Paul Schrader
Produced by James G. Robinson
Written by William Wisher
Caleb Carr
Based on Characters by
William Peter Blatty
Starring Stellan Skarsgård
Gabriel Mann
Music by Angelo Badalamenti
Dog Fashion Disco
Trevor Rabin
Cinematography Vittorio Storaro
Edited by Tim Silano
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • March 18, 2005 (2005-03-18) (BIFFF)
  • May 20, 2005 (2005-05-20) (United States)
Running time
117 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $30 million
Box office $251,495

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist is a 2005 American supernatural horror film directed by Paul Schrader. It is an alternative and original prequel to The Exorcist (1973) and the fifth entry in The Exorcist series. It was written by William Wisher and Caleb Carr.


Many years before the events in The Exorcist, the young Father Lankester Merrin (played by Skarsgård, who played the same part in Exorcist: The Beginning) travels to East Africa. Merrin has taken a sabbatical from the Church and devoted himself to history and archaeology as he struggles with his shattered faith. He is haunted especially by an incident in a small village in occupied Holland during World War II, where he served as parish priest. Near the end of the war, a sadistic Nazi SS commander, in retaliation for the murder of a German trooper, forces Merrin to participate in arbitrary executions in order to save a full village from slaughter.

In 1947, Merrin is an archaeologist in the Turkana region of British Kenya excavating a Christian Byzantine church built around the 5th century — long before Christianity had reached that region of Africa. He meets up with Father Francis, a Maryknoll missionary appointed to ensure the church not be desecrated, and Major Granville, the British military officer overseeing the dig.

In the village, Merrin meets Rachel, a doctor who spent time in a concentration camp during World War II and is haunted by what happened to her there. Merrin's translator and guide is Chuma. Merrin takes Francis on a tour of the dig site. Only the dome is uncovered; the rest of the church is yet buried beneath the earth. Merrin discovers to his surprise the church is in perfect condition, as though it had been deliberately buried immediately after its construction was completed. Merrin hires more men to uncover the church's walls; as excavation continues, one of the diggers inexplicably experiences a seizure, which was however dismissed as simple heat-stroke.

On the site, Merrin meets a shy, physically-deformed young boy named Cheche, shunned and mistreated by the local tribespeople for fear he is cursed. Although dissuaded by Chuma, Merrin attempts to make contact with Cheche, eventually finding him again at the village, sleeping outside in the rain. He brings the boy to the infirmary, where Rachel looks after him. That night, Merrin has a disturbing dream featuring several nightmarish images (one of which is the face of Satan).

Once the door is uncovered, Merrin, Francis, and Chuma go inside the church, finding it to be also in near-pristine condition. Francis however points out an oddity: churches were built to honour God and thus, usually reached up to the heavens, whereas this building seems as if it is restraining something below it.

They find a passageway leading to an underground crypt beneath the church, where they find demonic icons and signs of human sacrifice. Merrin deduces the church was built and then buried in order to hold this older pagan temple down. On their way back, they find hyenas (who have appeared out of season) were somehow killed and then eaten by a herd of cattle. The chiefs of the local tribesmen, fearing the church is evil, demand Merrin stop the excavation.

Father Francis then contacts Major Granville to send a detachment to guard the dig from potential robbers, despite Merrin's objections. Two British soldiers attempting to loot some precious stones from the church are then found murdered the next day in a strange fashion (one was beheaded, like John the Baptist; the other crucified to the altar head downward, in the style of Saint Peter). Granville blames the tribesmen for the attempted robbery and the murders. Meanwhile Cheche, who had just received an operation on his right leg, is healing at an unusually quick pace.

Granville then appears at the village in a rage, demanding the local chiefs give up the purported murderers, even shooting one of the tribeswomen in cold blood. Francis is wracked with guilt for summoning the British troops to the village. Things get worse when a tribesman, Jomo, assaults Francis and slaughters the children attending the village school under the pretext of stopping the 'Christian evil' from spreading but is caught in the act and shot.

Francis and Rachel note Cheche's speedy recovery & think it must be a miraculous sign. As Francis prays over the boy, however, he quickly realises (to his discomfort) it was not a sign frm God, but something sinister. He then considers the idea of baptising Cheche; the boy accepts on the condition it be held at the church. Meanwhile, Granville - visibly disturbed by his own actions at the village - commits suicide by shooting himself in the mouth. The Sergeant Major reports what had happened to Merrin, remarking at the same time how Granville's actions at the village last time were strangely out-of-character.

As the locals prepare to wage war against the British troops, Francis, assisted by Rachel, attempts to baptise Cheche at the church but is prevented by the demon controlling Cheche from doing so. Realising an exorcism is in order, Francis leaves quickly to fetch his copy of the Roman Ritual. The demon gains full control of the boy, transforming him into a hairless, androgynous being; an earthquake erupts and seals off the entrance to the church, trapping Rachel and Cheche inside. Merrin asks for the doors to be cleared, but the Sergeant Major (who had assumed command of the troops after Granville's death) postpones his request for daybreak.

The next morning Merrin and the British find Francis tied to a tree naked, shot with arrows (a clear parallel to the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian). Taken back to the village infirmary, the dying Francis reveals to Merrin that Cheche is possessed and begs him, to perform an exorcism.

As Merrin makes his way back at the excavation site, another earthquake shifts the rocks blocking the doors, allowing him to go inside. At the crypt, Merrin finds Rachel – who runs away under a trance – and the now-possessed Cheche. When the demon confronts Merrin over his doubt and offers him a chance to clear himself of his guilt, Merrin dashes back to the infirmary to get Francis' vestments and the Roman Ritual. He prays that God will help his unbelief.

Returning to the crypt, Merrin, now garbed as a priest, begins the exorcism, as the demon once more promises him a chance to change his past. In a hallucination, Merrin finds himself reliving the incident at Holland: despite attempting to change what happened by refusing to cooperate with the Germans, his efforts are proved to be in vain as the troops kill Merrin and all the villagers in retaliation for his defiance.

Back to the present, the demon mocks Merrin for his futile attempt. As Merrin attempts to proceed with the exorcism, an aurora appears in the sky as the entranced Rachel attempts to kill herself and the tribesmen charge to battle. Despite the evil spirit's attempts to thwart Merrin, the latter eventually succeeds in driving him out, ending the madness; Cheche regresses to his former condition as the demon leaves his body.

At the end of the movie, the British troops are packing up to leave the village, whilst the locals finally live in peace.

As Merrin himself prepares to depart, one of the local chiefs wishes him strength, while warning that the demon is now his enemy and will continue to pursue him. Merrin then makes his way to the infirmary (briefly stopping by Francis' grave along the way) to bid farewell to Rachel and Cheche, now serving as Rachel's assistant. After receiving a rosary from Rachel as a parting gift, Merrin, now an active priest once more, leaves for Rome.



John Frankenheimer was originally hired as director for the project, but withdrew before filming started due to health concerns. He died a month later. Paul Schrader replaced him. Dominion was essentially completed, then shelved by Morgan Creek Productions, who feared the film would be unsuccessful and replaced Schrader with Renny Harlin as the director to make a new version of the film, Exorcist: The Beginning (2004). This film used basically the same plot, and the same locations and sets as Dominion but shifted the tone to a more conventional horror film. After poor audience and critical response to Harlin's version, Morgan Creek gave around $35,000 to Paul Schrader to finish his version;[1][2] Morgan Creek also allowed Warner Bros. to release Schrader's version theatrically under the title Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. It was released to limited showing in May 2005.



While William Peter Blatty, the author and screenwriter of The Exorcist, described Dominion as "a handsome, classy, elegant piece of work",[3] critical reaction to the film has nonetheless been mixed to negative. Many critics stated that it is only slightly better than Harlin's version, holding a rating of 30% on Rotten Tomatoes[4] and a score of 55 out of 100 on Metacritic,[5] whereas Exorcist: The Beginning holds a rating of 11% on Rotten Tomatoes[6] and a score of 30 out of 100 on Metacritic.[7]

Nonetheless, the good reviews Dominion did get were much more positive than those of Harlin's version. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it three stars out of four, and wrote that it "does something risky and daring in this time of jaded horror movies: it takes evil seriously."[8] Leslie Felperin of Variety magazine wrote that this film is "intelligent, quietly subversive" and "Schrader has delivered a 100% Paul Schrader film, drenched in the spiritual and moral angst that's watermarked his career from Taxi Driver (as a writer) to Auto Focus (as a director)."[9]

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly said that "Schrader's film is a notch better than Harlin's, but when you boil out the demon feathers, it's the same damn movie."[10] Scott Tobias of The Onion's A.V. Club said that "Skarsgård [gives] a quietly mesmerizing performance", and that "Schrader's movie isn't particularly scary, but it's more substantive than The Exorcist and its sequels, because it takes demon possession out of head-spinning literalism and considers evil as something more real and commonplace."[11]

David Edelstein of the magazine Slate said the film is "a good, thoughtful horror picture, and [very] close to being a very good one."[12] Brent Simon of IGN gave the film a score of 4 out of 10, saying: "The overall feeling Dominion gives off is one of rootless languor. You keep waiting for someone or something to show up and seize control of the picture, but it never really happens until the final confrontation, which feels like it might as well come from a different movie. It's not blood or gore that's missing, its context; Dominion is too polite and urbane to frighten.[13]

Roulette (film) director Erik Kristopher Myers, who was the first to ever review the film in 2005, wrote, "The curious thing about the Exorcist franchise is that you have three films following the same narrative thread, but none of the chapters feel as though they belong to a greater whole. Each one plays too differently from the previous installment, destroying any sense of genuine continuity beyond names or locations. Schrader’s film is the first to synthesize the elements of each one, whether intentionally or otherwise, and presents us with an Exorcist that owes as much to Friedkin as it does to Boorman and Blatty. At the same time, it also manages to achieve its own identity while still being directly linked to The Exorcist, Exorcist II: The Heretic, and The Exorcist III. No other film in the series has a genuine marriage to each of its partners the way that Schrader’s does."[14]

Home media

The film was released on DVD October 25, 2005 by Warner Home Video and included deleted scenes, photo gallery, and an audio commentary by director Paul Schrader.

On October 10, 2006, the film was released with The Exorcist, The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen, Exorcist II: The Heretic, The Exorcist III and Exorcist: The Beginning in a box set titled The Exorcist: The Complete Anthology.

On September 23, 2014, the film was released on Blu-ray as part of the Blu-ray version of The Exorcist: The Complete Anthology. Unlike the DVD release, the film is only available in the box set. There are no plans to release the film as a standalone release at this time.


  1. ^ "Trivia for Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist". IMDB. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  2. ^ Mottram, James (14 October 2005). "Paul Schrader: Exorcising his demons". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  3. ^ Westbrook, Bruce (May 21, 2005). ""Dominion" director says he feels vindication with movie's release - Latest prequel on demons matches Harlin's version". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  4. ^ Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist reviews, Rotten Tomatoes
  5. ^ Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist reviews, Metacritic
  6. ^ Exorcist: The Beginning reviews, Rotten Tomatoes
  7. ^ Exorcist: The Beginning reviews, Metacritic
  8. ^ Review, Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, May 19, 2005
  9. ^ Felperin, Leslie (March 18, 2005). "Exorcist: The Prequel Movie Review". Variety. 
  10. ^ Review, Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly, 2005
  11. ^ Review, Scott Tobias, The A.V. Club, May 24th, 2005
  12. ^ Review, David Edelstein, Slate
  13. ^ Review, Brent Simon, IGN, October 27, 2005
  14. ^ [1]

External links