Monday, July 13, 2009

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist

I think it’s worth bringing up the title of this movie before even bothering to watch it. The title is, as you can see, “Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist.”

I guess I can understand why the company releasing the movie would title it in this fashion, but it just looks so awkward. I mean, you can’t call it “Exorcist: The Beginning, the Version that You Didn’t See in Theaters Because We Didn’t Like It So We Shot a While New Movie,” but I’m not sure that this title is any less choppy.

I suppose it doesn’t matter, since as far as the story of Father Merrin goes, nothing in this movie ever happened. Unless, of course, it happened in a different movie as well, in which case it did.

It’s weird to think that of the approximately 4 hours and 45 minutes spent showing us Merrin’s time in Africa, less than two hours of it can be considered the “official” story.

No wonder Merrin drinks so much.

Anyway, on with the show.

The movie begins in Holland in 1944. It’s a dark winter day, and a high-ranking Nazi has just discovered one of his soldiers dead in a ditch with a kitchen knife in his back.

He calls out to the local priest. He is, as it turns out, our very own Father Merrin.

The Nazi first demands that Merrin provide the name of the killer, presuming that Merrin will know because everyone confesses to him. Merrin tells him that no one in the town could have performed the murder.

The Nazi says, essentially, that he needs a name. Any name. To provide an example. Merrin says that these are all good people, and the Nazi counters that someone there must beat his wife, or something.

When Merrin says no again, the Nazi says that he’s going to shoot ten people to provide an example for whoever it is who murdered the solider. As an added bonus, Merrin must choose the ten.

Merrin first refuses, then tells the Nazi to shoot him instead.

The Nazi says no, then shoots a teenaged girl in the head. And says he still needs ten names.

Merrin begins to pray, and the Nazi says he needs ten names, or he’s going to kill everyone in the town. Merrin doesn’t say anything.

The Nazi finally gives in, and says, “You win, Father.” A second later, however, he gives orders to, “Shoot them all.”

I think the movie is trying to tell us that Nazis are bad people.

Merrin stands up and prepares to offer names, but the Nazi says it’s too late. Merrin begs, and gives two names. The Nazi tells his men to go ahead and kill them.

And we faaade out over a series of gunshots.

Then the movie leaps to British East Africa, 1947.

There’s a whole bunch of exposition, but the gist of it is this:

1. Merrin is “on sabbatical.” He hasn’t actually left the church.
2. Merrin found a church where no church should be himself and is already digging it up – he was summoned to talk to both the military and Father Francis, as the Cardinal has some concerns about a priest on sabbatical digging up a site with so much religious significance.

Long story short, Merrin can either agree to bring Father Francis along on his dig, or chances are good that Merrin’s visa will not be renewed.

Merrin is told that we must all make our little deals with the devil. Tee-hee, I guess.

With that bit of wisdom, Merrin and Francis head to the dig.

While driving there, Francis and Merrin talk to Chuma. Whereas in that “other” movie, Chuma was a driver and guide, here Merrin is driving while Chuma just kind of sits there, in the car.

He’s called on to deliver some exposition as they roll along. It appears that a local tribe is killing a large, dangerous animal so that the chief’s soon-to-be-born heir will be healthy.

Merrin pulls the car onto the compound, and we get to meet the doctor, whose name is Rachel this time around.

Merrin then wanders off and we get to meet the hotel manager and his two sons, James and Joseph. Francis comes over and says he’s going to be starting a school.

Francis then looks around and asks where the dig is located. Merrin points off in the distance, and then the movie cuts over to the dig itself.

At this point, only the top of the roof is exposed. Merrin starts babbling about how it must have been hard to build, what with the rocks they used being taken from a lake somewhere-or-other. When suddenly he realizes something: The church looks almost new.

It’s as if someone built the church and then immediately buried it.

Merrin tells Chuma to hire some more men and make them work double-shifts – he wants those walls cleared.

You know, I seem to recall that Darth Vader makes similar demands in “Return of the Jedi.” And we all know how that turned out.

Francis heads back to town to start up the new school. He discovers that he only has two students, James and Joseph. Judging by the way the scene is shot, I’m guessing this is supposed to be a moment of levity in a dark, dark, film. But since the moment isn’t all that funny, Francis taking a shot to the groin would probably be more entertaining.

Maybe that’s what this movie needs. A subplot wherein Francis tries to teach two little scamps, James and Joseph, important life lessons. Perhaps at the end of the movie they can win the big game. But more importantly, they can learn something about themselves.

Over at the dig site, one of the workers falls over and starts shaking and crying out in his native tongue. Merrin and Chuma decide to call the doctor and/or give him some water in tones that seem to say that any medical care this fellow receives is coming out of his meager pay.

While giving the worker some water, Merrin looks up and spots some guy called Cheche standing several yards away. Merrin tells Chuma that he’s going to see if he can get Cheche into the tent, but neither of them explain just what Cheche’s deal is.

As Merrin gets closer, we can see that Cheche’s face is somewhat oddly proportioned, but his actual problem is left to our imagination, as he vanishes shortly thereafter.

Rachel shows up and treats the ill worker, noting that he has heatstroke and that Merrin is working the men too hard. I guess she doesn’t want to be a nag about it, though, since Merrin quickly derails that conversation by mentioning that he saw Cheche again.

The doctor says that Cheche needs sustained treatment, but once again, doesn’t say what he needs treatment for. We do learn that all the other people of the tribe think he “cursed.” Though again, why and in what manner is left to our imagination.

The sequence ends with Merrin noting the number tattoo on Rachel’s wrist.

Merrin walks out of his tent and sees Cheche again. So Merrin leaves a large cup of water sitting on a rock. I guess for Cheche. So either Cheche can drink it, or it can evaporate in the next thirteen seconds due to the blazing heat.

Later, Merrin sees the cup on the rock, only now it’s lying on it’s side. He goes to pick up the cup and hears a dog whimpering. The dog is actually three extraordinarily badly CGIed hyenas. Seriously. They’re awful. They should have “Made with a Mac” printed on them somewhere.

Chuma comes over and fires his gun in the air, and the CGIenas dash off. Chuma notes that they are early this year.

Later, Merrin wanders the compound they all live in. It starts to rain. He stumbles across Cheche, who is lying on the ground.

Merrin takes Cheche to Rachel. Rachel cleans up Cheche’s various wounds, and notes that his arm is too messed up for her to fix, but that his leg could theoretically be re-broken by a surgeon from Nairobi.

Then it’s later, and Merrin and Rachel are drinking tea and Rachel decides to fill Merrin in on her time at a Nazi death camp.

Merrin and Rachel have a philosophical discussion about the nature of good and evil. Merrin states that he tried to do good, and evil happened. Rachel points out that Merrin helped Cheche.

It’s all pretty dull. So Merrin decides to liven things up by going back to his room, falling asleep, and having a dream sequence.

First, he dreams about a priest whose face is covered by bandages. Kind of a mummy priest. Also, there’s a clock floating around in the air.

Then, there’s the sound of a baby wailing, and a woman standing in a doorway, and she has a hole in her hand. A ghostly singing voice sings “bring him back to me,” and then one of those freaky ghost-faces from the original “The Exorcist” appears for a moment.

Then there’s another shot of Merrin with the bandages over his face. He pulls one down so he can see, and he sees a hyena. And it looks like there’s no CGI involved. Why dream-hyenas look more real than awake-hyenas is a mystery.

We don’t actually see the dream end, so I guess we can presume the rest of the movie is a dream sequence if we want to.

Merrin takes Francis to the church, which, 27 minutes into the movie, is already totally uncovered. He sees a statue standing outside the church, with a hole under it. Under the base of the statue, in the hole, is another statue. Which looks remarkably like the ghost faces in the original film.

The movie then cuts over to Cheche, who also, come to think of it, looks like the ghost-faced people. Rachel tells him he’s getting better, and Cheche says “beeeeeeeeeh… ter…”

Perhaps he will help the two boys win the big game. But really, he’ll be a winner at life, with his new vocalization skills. Cheche is coming out of his shell, folks.

The good doctor asks him if he wants his leg fixed. He does.

Back at the church, Francis and Merrin and Chuma walk in, and Francis tries to deliver as much exposition he can. So he says things like, “The war in heaven!” and “these statues are holding something down,” and “These rocks are like plugs,” and “What is that? It’s like a sarcophagus.”

It’s a miracle he doesn’t keep on babbling. “I’m going to wander over to it now. It’s really dusty. I don’t think the cleaning lady has been in. I need to wee.”

Francis walks over to whatever it is, hears a rattle, and drops his light in a panic. A really, really, really horribly CGIed snake goes zipping by. It is the only snake in the whole movie.

Merrin hears a dripping sound. At first you sort of assume that Francis wet himself, but no, Francis dropped his canteen, and water is dripping through the floor. Thanks to that and a quick breeze check on the sarcophagus, Merrin determines that there’s something under the floor.

He sends Chuma to get a few workers. And a sarcophagus opening device.

Workers arrive. The lid is lifted. Cheche, still in bed at the hospital, starts to freak out.

Merrin and crew find a hidden stairway and head down into it. Merrin points out that it is, “A temple of some kind.” A temple of doom, perhaps?

Merrin says, “I’d say it’s dedicated to HIM.” And everyone looks over at a big old pagan idol. Merrin asks Chuma which demon it is, and Chuma gives an unsatisfactory answer. It appears that it is not Pazuzu.

Francis finds some bloodstains, and says that people were sacrificed here.

Merrin says, “Yes, it’s like something out of the inquisition, isn’t it?” Francis got served, folks.

Merrin, Francis, and Chuma get in the truck to head somewhere-or-other, when they see a scene of mass carnage in a field. Several hyenas attacked some cattle. Only the cattle fought back, and won, and are now eating the hyenas.

I’m sure this is supposed to demonstrate great evil, but mostly it makes you go, “Yay, cows!”

Except eating the hyenas is causing the cows to die. Aw. Poor, valiant, cows.

The leader of Chuma’s tribe shows up and says, thanks to Chuma’s translation, that the church is evil and that they should stop digging. Which would make a lot more sense if the church wasn’t basically completely uncovered already.

And here’s a thought – what kind of idiot makes a giant church to hide a pagan temple, and then sticks and easy-to-move door on the top of the temple itself? Why not fill it with rocks? It’s like making a massive candy warehouse, then keeping people out of it by putting a really sleepy dog in front of the door. Is it a little hassle to move him? Sure.

But with all that candy sitting right there…

Merrin takes Rachel to visit the church, because as we all know, doctors love churches. He notes that the church is dedicated to St. Michael, and that the artwork on the walls depicts the war of heaven.

Rachel tells Merrin that this is the kind of find that makes a career, but she wonders what it will make Merrin.

Francis finds Merrin and says that he has to inform the Cardinal what they’ve found. Merrin tells Francis that if word gets out what’s inside the church, that there will be looting.

Francis also think that they should inform Major Granville as well. Maybe get some British troops out there.

Merrin calmly educates Francis about the fact that the British museum is mostly made up of artifacts stolen from sites like the one they’re at.

But it doesn’t matter. Hang a lamp, folks. The British are coming.

The Brits show up, and there’s a whole, “Hey, make sure you respect the local tribe” discussion that lets us know there’s rampant racism going on.

Two guards are assigned to protect the church, only instead they decide to go in to “look around” or possibly “steal some stuff” which is probably a very “bad idea.”

And then it’s major medical night, where we cut back and forth between the chief’s heir being born, and a doctor showing up to break and resent Cheche’s leg.

Final results: The soldiers steal some precious stones, Cheche’s leg gets fixed, and the chief’s baby is born dead and covered with maggots.

Granville goes to visit the church, and finds his two soldiers quite dead. One is crucified upside-down, and the other one has had his head removed and placed next to the crucified solider.

Granville demands that they be covered with blankets.

Merrin takes the surgeon to catch his flight out of town. Words are exchanged that are meant to be ominous, but sort of fall flat after seeing a dude with his head cut off.

Merrin and Francis go to see Granville, who wants to know what happened. Merrin points out that they were stealing jewels, and that the local tribe couldn’t have been responsible because the imagery invoked was Christian, not pagan.

Chuma tells Granville that a member of the tribe saw what happened. The two soldiers were possessed by a “madness,” one solider killed the other, and then himself.

Granville freaks right out. He doesn’t buy the story at all. He tells Chuma that the elders need to hand over whoever is responsible or things are going to become unpleasant.

A few days later, Merrin chats up Rachel about Cheche. He’s getting better at a rate that’s really almost too fast – his leg is almost healed. They chat for a while, when suddenly the front gates of the compound open, and a truck, a cadre of British soldiers, and a bunch of members of the local tribe enter.

Granville has had “enough” of the tribe not telling him who killed his men. He grabs Chuma and has him translate what he’s saying – which is, essentially, “Who killed my people?”

Chuma tells him everyone knows that the men killed each other.

Granville punches Chuma, who falls to the ground. Then he informs the chief of the tribe that if the chief isn’t afraid, he can give the chief a reason to be. Granville then grabs a member of the tribe and shoots her in the head.

Merrin runs over and punches Granville dead in the face. Granville falls over.

One of the higher-ranking Brits defuses the situation much faster than one would think possible. He basically tells the soldiers to stand down and the tribe to clean up “this mess.”

Morning arrives.

Francis lies in bed, sleeping and hearing voices in his head.

Merrin wakes him up, and asks how Francis is doing. Francis slept through the night in the bed next to Cheche, watching over him so Rachel could rest. Francis is, however, wracked with guilt over bringing Granville into the situation.

Merrin points out that Granville is responsible for what Granville did. He also offers to take over watching Cheche so Francis can go do his daily duties.

Francis doesn’t think he’ll have much of a class. But Merrin says that the kids seem to like school, and Francis. Of course they do! The big game is coming up, and they’ve been winning heat after heat. It’s only a matter of time before they’re the champions.

Francis says the only thing they have at times like this is prayer, and Merrin says it’s like having nothing.

Francis tries to convince Merrin that God is still with him. It doesn’t seem to work.

So Francis goes to teach school.

A surprising number of students show up, though it turns out that their parents told them not to come. It seems their parents think that Jesus Christ killed the girl. But the students all showed up because they were worried that Jesus Christ would kill them, next.

Francis tries to assure them that what Granville did was very, very, wrong, when suddenly the door bursts open and the man who saw the two soldiers kill each other comes rushing in, spear in hand.

There are screams, and when the soldiers and Merrin arrive, there are dead children on the floor.

The killer is shot, and as he dies on the floor he says that he, “…had to kill them to stop the Christian evil from spreading.”

This is, of course, the turning point for the students. They’ve lost their best players. Their only hope now is to dig deep inside themselves and realize that they were winners, all along.

Francis goes to the doctor to lie down and get some treatment for the scrape on his head. The doctor awakens him a while later and points to Cheche, whose arm has miraculously healed.

Francis offers to watch Cheche while Rachel goes to get Merrin, and Francis tells a sleeping Cheche that he may be the one proof of God they have right now. He talks about this until he hears an evil chanting in his ear, and he says, to Cheche, “You know my guilt?”

Then he does a long, long, speech, talking about how Cheche is clearly a messenger of God. This lasts right up until he touches his rosary to Cheche’s head, Cheche’s head starts to smoke, and Cheche sits up, gets all red-eyed, and says, “Don’t ever touch me with that again, priest.”

Francis falls to the floor, gets a grip on himself, and looks at the sleeping Cheche – who has a cross burned into his head.

Merrin and Rachel arrive, and after Francis tells them what happened, they figure he’s gone off the deep end due to stress. Francis insists that Cheche should be baptized. They ask Cheche if he wants to be baptized, and he says he does – in the church.

He seems to think Merrin lives there. That is not an attempt at humor. That’s straight from the movie.

Francis has no problems with this.

The movie takes a short detour to visit Granville, who tells one of his underlings to give a message to Merrin – Granville’s message is, essentially, that there’s no way out, except… and then he sticks a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger.

The hand not holding a gun falls open, and a butterfly falls out of it. I’m sure there’s a metaphor there, but I have no idea what it’s supposed to be.

Granville’s messenger passes Granville’s message along to Merrin, adding that Granville was well-liked and that Merrin should tell the locals to watch their step. Merrin says he’ll do what he can.

In the hospital, Cheche looks up from his bed and goes all creepy-looking.

Francis and Rachel take Cheche to the church to get him baptized.

This turns out to be a Very Bad Idea, as, partway into the baptism, Cheche gets all red-eyed again and throws Francis across the room.

Back at the base, the head of the local tribe wants to talk to the head of the military and Father Merrin. He has two demands.

First, he wants the church buried again, what with it being evil and all.

Second, he wants Father Francis and Cheche dead, because it’s clear that Francis brought the evil, and the soldiers. And Cheche is the only one to draw strength from the evil.

The British will be spared if they leave now.

The British are, naturally, non-plussed by the whole thing.

Back at the church, Cheche threatens Francis, then falls on the floor for a good-old-fashioned writhing fest.

Francis says he needs The Book of Rituals, and runs out of the church so he can go back to town and get it. He leaves Rachel and Cheche in the church. Because I guess he never liked Rachel much. At least, about the only way to justify him leaving her there with a possessed man with superhuman strength.

As Francis runs out of the church, he runs into Merrin, gives Merrin a short primer on what’s going on, and races off, saying, “Satan is real.”

Inside the church, Rachel stands against a wall, staring in awe as Cheche, who is now bald, stretches out his now-healed arm and says, “I am perfection.”

There’s a massive earthquake, and several rocks block the door of the church. Merrin wants to get inside right away, but the new head o’ the British army says they’ll try in the morning.

Morning comes.

Father Francis is located. He’s tied to a tree, with arrows sticking out of him. Merrin goes to cut him down, and discovers that Francis is alive, and mumbling, “It’s him. It’s him.”

Merrin looks around and sees a CGIena.

Merrin takes Francis back to the doctor’s office, and Francis begs for Merrin to give him last rites. Merrin is about to comply when Francis says that Merrin will need the book of Roman Rituals. For the exorcism.

Merrin notes that they need the approval of the archbishop (hey, one of the movies finally remembered!) but Francis tells him there’s no time.

Merrin goes back to the church, an earthquake occurs, and one of the doors opens. Merrin tells the British army that he’s going inside, and that no one should follow him.

Merrin walks inside, but we don’t see him go into the church. Instead, we see him head right into the Pagan temple, where he calls out to Rachel. After a few moments, he finds her. She appears to be in a waking nightmare of some sort, talking about how Cheche took her… somewhere-or-other. Heaven? Hell? No idea.

Merrin turns and sees Cheche, who tells Merrin that Merrin is a passionate man, and then vanishes, only to reappear at the foot of the Pagan statue.

Merrin tells Rachel to run away, and luckily for all involved, Rachel does.

Merrin and Cheche banter about how Cheche is “the great deceiver,” and possibly, “Satan.”

Merrin runs out of the temple, goes back to the hospital, and asks God to absolve his sins and purify him for this task. Then he goes and gets his priestly garb and suits up.

As he’s heading out, the guy who owns the hotel tosses a few insults about the church Merrin’s way.

Out in the dessert, the tribe prepares for battle.

Merrin heads into the temple, while in a cutaway shot, a hyena that looks like it belongs at Chuck E. Cheese looks on.

Once he’s in the temple, Merrin goes looking for Cheche. Eventually, he finds him, floating in the air in lotus position. Did I mention he’s bald and wrapped only in a loincloth? And he has read eyes? And there are, like, little divots in his head?

I just want to paint a complete picture.

(Oh, and later, his face morphs into the ghost-face thing from “The Exorcist.”

Merrin starts exorcising.

While this goes on, we get a series of shots – the angry British, a bunch of tribesmen getting ready for war, Chuma shaking in his bed, and Rachel looking like the Bride of Frankenstein and carrying a knife around.

Back in the cave, Cheche taunts Merrin with the words, “Don’t you want to go back?” Eventually, he reveals that he can send Merrin “back” to fix “the events of that day.” One presumes Cheche is talking about the day of the Nazis, but Cheche doesn’t say, specifically.

Then everything faaades out, and Father Merrin is back at that fateful day. Dialogue is altered, events start to change, and this time around, Merrin grabs the Nazi’s pistol away and shoots the Nazi with it.

The leads to everyone in the village getting shot.

Intercut with Merrin’s dream sequence.

Cheche explains that Merrin did what he could. So now Merrin is free to walk the earth without guilt, because God killed all those people. Or wanted them dead. Or something. Apparently Satan is the father of lies, and also of being really obtuse.

Merrin starts reciting again.

Outside, freaky Northern lights appear, and… a bunch other stuff happens, none of which has any bearing on the eventual resolution of the movie. Things are bad. Let’s just go with that.

Inside, Cheche spits what I guess are wasps. Bad special effects makes it tough to tell.

They sting Merrin’s face. Merrin keeps reciting.

Cheche begins to appear, sorta-kinda. He does that thing everyone who is ever possessed in a movie does, where they cry out and you’re not sure who the good guy is fighting.

Merrin’s various wasp stings look more and more and more infected and he just keeps on reciting. And then, suddenly, Cheche vanishes.

And Rachel, who was holding a knife to her own throat, kind of wakes up and goes, “Hey, there’s this sharp thing at my throat, and I’m holding it there.”

And the Chuck E. Cheese hyena’s eyes glow red.

Back in the temple, Merrin completes the ritual to a non-hairless Cheche. He presses his cross to Cheche’s lips and Cheche doesn’t start smoking, so I guess things worked out.

Some time later, the leader of the local tribe asks Merrin if the demon is really gone from the church. Merrin says yes.

The leader that that the demon is Merrin’s enemy now, and the demon will pursue him.

As the movie wraps up, Merrin visits the grave of Father Francis, then goes to see Rachel, who asks Merrin to write her. He also learns that Cheche is Rachel’s new helper.

And then, he walks off into the mist.

But is the movie over? Nah. After all, we’ve got the credits, which boast a boisterous heavy-metal song.

And let’s not forget the list of composers, including Dog Fashion Disco.

Final verdict? Neither version of this movie is better – they’re both equally well-done and completely ridiculous in equal measure.

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