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DVD Review: Schrader's Exorcism

by Brian Orndorf

In 2003, filmmaker Paul Schrader found himself removed from a motion picture he spent the last year creating. Imagined as the disturbing new chapter in the long-standing “Exorcist” saga, “Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist” (the eventual title) was positioned by studio Morgan Creek as a major entry in a modern horror climate, ready to scare the pants off all audiences. What Creek received from Schrader was an esoteric production that used psychological means to instill fear over simple bloodletting. The producers were not pleased.

The fallout from “Dominion” was the stuff of industry headlines back in 2003/04, when Morgan Creek, wanting something more agreeable for marketplace expectations, scrapped Schrader’s film and handed Renny Harlin 40 million bucks to reshoot essentially the same story, only now with broader scares and simplistic demonic themes. It left the cinema landscape with two “Exorcist” prequels, but only one didn’t have a prayer for success.

“Schrader’s Exorcism” is editor Tim Silano’s valentine to Schrader’s ordeal and a semi-realized document on the construction of the moody “Dominion” under impossibly tight budget restrictions. No, the brief documentary (51 minutes) doesn’t break down the fight between Schrader and Morgan Creek, it doesn’t pursue any in-depth discussion of Harlin’s film, and “Exorcism” fails to adequately document the bizarre reshoot circumstances shared by both features. If you’re looking for a blazing scoop on a wildly underreported nugget of Hollywood backstage brawling, “Exorcism” isn’t that movie.

Instead of untangling Morgan Creek’s creative peculiarities, Silano focuses on the rebirth of “Dominion” and Schrader’s purging of creative cancer when offered a chance to complete the film. “Exorcism” interviews production individuals such as cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (who stepped in for Vittorio Storaro when he wasn’t allowed to complete his work), the members of Dog Fashion Disco (a starving band that provided some music to the final cut), and Silano himself, who was involved in the rapid cutting of “Dominion.” Not unexpectedly, the participants are rather disturbed by the actions of Morgan Creek and question why a studio would discard an entire feature film when so much time, money, and effort went into a creation with content agreed upon well in advance of shooting. It’s hard to argue their logic, even if you’re like me and found Harlin and Schrader both chasing a lukewarm “Exorcist” concept that, through two movies, never found ideal screen confidence.

The bulk of “Exorcism” is taken up at the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film in 2005, where the first public screening of “Dominion” was held. Silano captures, through low-grade home video and short media clips, Schrader’s interior brew of excitement, trepidation, and relief to get this movie off his back. Reuniting the cast for interviews, “Exorcism” evokes a feeling of elation that Schrader’s side of the story could finally be told and screened to seemingly great success (a knockout punch of an intro is provided by star of both films, Stellan Skarsgard) , punctuated by a positive review in Variety.



A no-budget documentary, the full-frame image on “Schrader’s Exorcism” only goes as far as the video sources. With the film jumping around using footage ranging in quality, it’s best to ignore the limitations and ride out Silano’s frenzied, homemade vision.


The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is working with tinny sound sources and camcorder microphones, making a few sequences in the doc nearly impossible to understand. The sound is an issue throughout the documentary, underlining with extreme severity the fly-on-the-wall atmosphere Silano is attempting to build.


“B-side” (49:40) is even more of “Exorcism,” combining on-set footage, full-length interviews, and more from Brussels to take the “Dominion” discussion further.


While the documentary doesn’t provide needed answers to the “Exorcist” prequel debacle, it stays true to the title, observing Paul Schrader getting beyond a professional embarrassment and searching for some perspective that could placate his anger. Heck, the doc even reveals Schrader to be something of a warm, kindly guy; accessibility being a notion that rarely arises during interviews and DVD recollections with the director. “Schrader’s Exorcism” is modest to fault, but it’s a gripping piece of a baffling puzzle, illuminating the trial of a film that never received a true chance to prove itself.

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originally posted: 09/27/08 04:40:50
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