Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist

Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist (2005)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Stellan Skarsgård, Gabriel Mann, Clara Bellar, Billy Crawford
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Photo Gallery

"Dominion" is a tricky beast in many ways. The film has a troubled past – to say the least – and in a sense there exist two completely separate versions of it. Director Paul Shrader created the film based on a script by William Wisher but was ousted by Warner executives after a first screening of the film to them. Renny Harlin was put in place to do the film in his stead, which resulted in "Exorcist: The Beginning," a truly mediocre film. Paul Shrader was eventually allowed to complete his film and had been given a very limited theatrical run earlier this year, accompanied by plenty of critical acclaim. Now it is also available on DVD and everyone can see for themselves, if "Dominion" is really the better of the two movies, as many people say, and if it is, how so.

For all the hardcore horror fans and gorehounds, I think it is important to point out right off the bat that "Dominion" is probably a very different film than many may expect. It has little in common with Friedkin's fiery "The Exorcist" and its vile portrayal of Satan. Many will argue it's not even a horror film, really – though I disagree. "Dominion" is an intelligent horror film that has more in common with the classic definition of the genre than with the excessive modern day splatter films.

The film tells the story of Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård) battling his own demons and his faith as he encounters Satan – or Pazuzu – for the first time, years before the events pictured in "The Exorcist." During World War II Merrin has to make a choice that ultimately kills a number of innocent people and breaks his faith in God. After the war he goes on a sabbatical and begins a career in archeology, looking for lost treasures of the past, trying to find closure and to forget the painful memories. In British-occupied Africa he discovers the remains of a church one day, buried in the ground, and begins to unearth it. But as soon as it is uncovered, he realizes that it is no ordinary church. It is a temple built upon an ancient sacrificial altar to Satan, with the distinct purpose to keep the Devil in check. By unearthing the temple, he may just have unleashed Satan upon Earth. But this is not his only problem as a conflict brews between the British and the local tribes and before he knows it, his past comes back to haunt him.

Deliberate and intelligent are the words that come to mind after viewing "Dominion." It is a remarkable film, truly. Taking its time to establish characters and drama, the film does not so much put Satan into the spotlight, but the horrors and evils that humans are capable of, which ultimately spawn the Devil. It is an entirely character-driven film as we see Merrin try to overcome the demons that haunt him and to deal with the sudden outbreak of horrific events surrounding him. It is his struggle to come to terms with the evil that is within man and his fight to regain faith in God. It is much more of an anthropologic film than it is a straight horror movie. As such, "Dominion" is unique and mesmerizing and his been crafted with incredible skill, making it one of those films that you start watching and just can't get away from. Stellan Skarsgård's performance further adds weight to the film with his powerful performance.

Warner Home Video is presenting "Dominion" in its original widescreen aspect ratio on this DVD in a transfer that is enhanced for 16×9 TV sets. The picture is clean and clear, though occasional speckles are evident. No grain mars the picture and colors are vibrant and rich, reproducing the dry sand- and earth-colored tones of the film meticulously. Black levels are solid making sure to render shadows that are solid and deep – which is particular necessary in a number of scenes where dread comes from not knowing what's luring in the dark, just beyond what we can make out. No edge-enhancement distracts form the presentation and the compression is flawless.

A 5.1 channel Dolby Digital audio track is included on the release, supplemented by subtitles in English, French and Spanish. The audio is very well produced with subtle ambient effects for a wide, active sound field that is never overly aggressive. In key scenes the audio is then becoming more of a savage assault to underscore the picture with effects coming in from all directions. Wonderful mix, really, that perfectly suits the picture.

A commentary track by director Paul Shrader is included on the DVD also. In the track Shrader mostly discusses the production of the film and technical aspects, without divulging too much in to the difficulties and politicking that caused the various problems. It is a very insightful and analytical commentary that will help you make understand and appreciate the film and its approach to the theme even more.

As other extras will find six deleted scenes on the disc, as well as a still gallery with production photos.

"Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist" is one of the most thought-provoking horror films I have seen in years because it rings true on so many levels. It uses themes we can all identify with without taking it too far into the supernatural – for most of the film anyways. If you are looking for a horror film that is intelligent and doesn't follow the current made-for-teenage-boys template, "Dominion" is a movie you simply cannot afford to miss!