Every employee at Morgan Creek should be taken out into the courtyard and flogged for burying this movie and letting Renny Harlin unleash his worthless Exorcist prequel on the world in its place. There are certain ideas and concepts that are just meant to be movies, and doing a prequel to the Exorcist is one of them. I really can't understand how anyone could possibly screw up the story. Even Michael Bay should have been able to make a good Exorcist prequel. But Renny Harlin did the impossible, he made a bad Exorcist movie and all the while they had Paul Schrader's version hidden away in a closet.
Now, this is not a great movie, and it doesn't live up to its full potential, but it's not as much of a crime against nature as the version that was released theatrically. If the producers had actually supported Schrader and helped him trim this movie down a bit, we might have had the prequel we were all hoping for.
For anyone who doesn't know the saga of the Exorcist prequel, I will give you the Cliff Notes version. Warner Brothers and Morgan Creek decided to make a prequel to the Exorcist that would basically be the story of a young Father Merrin and how he came to be the Exorcist. Yes, I thought to myself when reading about this... good idea, finally. They hired Caleb Carr, a novelist best known for his book the Alienist, and Paul Schrader a director who's best known for writing Taxi Driver. Okay, now I was starting to get excited. Paul went and shot his movie, but ran into problems when he screened the movie for Morgan Creek and the big brains decided that it was too long and not scary. Caleb Carr started screaming that Schrader was destroying his words. They fired Paul Schrader and brought Renny Harlin in. Renny reshot 90% of the movie and put his hack fingerprints all over it. That was the version that was released theatrically with a pretty dismal box office response.
Meanwhile, Paul Schrader's version languished on the shelf until recently. This movie follows the same basic premise as the Renny Harlin version. Father Merrin suffers a crisis of faith after being forced to watch as Nazis massacre an entire village. He's in Africa and he discovers an entire church that has been buried in the desert. But while the plotline is basically the same, the two movies couldn't be more different. In Schrader's film, Merrin is a tortured man who's struggling with complex issues of faith. In Renny Harlin's film, Father Merrin is more of swashbuckling archeologist like Indiana Jones. That's basically the difference between the two movies. One is a drama, and one is an adventure.
The problem is that neither film is really a horror film. Schrader's film, while certainly more brooding and esoteric, is not that frightening. The possessed boy in DOMINION is nowhere near as scary as Regan was. That might be because there isn't really any identifiable threat in the movie. We all know that Father Merrin is going to survive whatever hellish experience he goes through, because he shows up in the later movie. So, since we know our main character is going to live, there's not a lot of peril in the movie. We are able to disengage from it and never really feel frightened or worried that Father Merrin might not make it out of this experience alive. This is a flaw that should have been handled in the concept stage. This is not a fault that can be pinned on Paul Schrader. In fact, I think Schrader did everything he could with the material he was given. It's still a flawed concept, and the producers obviously didn't give Schrader any money for CG because the hyenas in this movie look like they came right out of a video game. That's the only reason that I didn't give this movie a higher score, and it has nothing to do with Schrader or his direction. It has everything to do with a poorly conceived concept and a lack of care on the part of the producers.
The saddest thing about the Saga of the Exorcist Prequel is that Morgan Creek and Warner Brothers missed a great opportunity and we, the horror fans, are the ones who suffer for it. This movie is definitely worth a rental if you are a fan of the Exorcist series, and if you felt betrayed by Renny Harlin's movie. This will ease the sting just a little bit for you. I don't know if I can recommend adding this movie to your collection, because it still has some problems. Despite the fact that none of the fault can be pinned on Paul Schrader, this movie still ends up getting a C+ in my grade book. It's better than Renny Harlin's, but still not as great as it could have been if the producers had stood behind Paul Schrader from the beginning.