Review: Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (dir. Paul Schrader, 2005)

Have you ever looked at a film’s credits and wondered what the difference was between the “story” written by these guys over here and the “screenplay” written by those guys over there? Often, the “story” in question used to be a proper screenplay in its own right, until someone else was hired to give it a bit of a polish, and by the time the finished film came out, it became impossible to say for sure which bits were the work of which people.

You can see something of this process whenever an old movie is remade; some of the more confounding plot twists in, say, last year’s versions of The Stepford Wives and The Manchurian Candidate begin to make sense when you watch the original versions of those films and realize why and how the stories went in those directions. And when remakes go off in their own direction, it often says something revealing about the people that made them. But remakes are generally made many years after the originals — or, in the case of foreign-film adaptations like The Magnificent Seven, after a story has been transposed into a different culture — so the new films still tend to have an identity of their own.

So apart from the film’s actual content — more on that in a moment — the most remarkable thing about Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist is that, in tandem with last year’s Exorcist: The Beginning, it provides a unique opportunity to see how tweaking a screenplay can produce a very different film, even when many of the same elements are in place.

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Review: Exorcist: The Beginning (dir. Renny Harlin, 2004)

It is almost impossible to imagine that a worthy sequel to 1973’s The Exorcist could ever be made, but that hasn’t stopped several filmmakers from trying. The original film — directed by William Friedkin from a screenplay by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the original novel — was more of a mood piece than a story. The demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl was less a conflict to be resolved than a hook on which to hang a thoughtful meditation on the tension between modern materialistic science and an ancient, even primitive, belief in a spiritual realm beyond this life. At a time when many were asking if God was dead, and if concepts such as goodness still had any meaning, Blatty and Friedkin hit audiences with a bold, shocking depiction of evil and dared them to say that this, too, was not meaningful. If there truly was such a thing as evil, then there truly must be such a thing as good, too; and if the Devil existed, then so did God.

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