The Exorcist Movies Ranked

4. Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)

Once Warner Bros got the rights to the Exorcist franchise, they decided they needed a prequel. In came Stellan Skargsgärd, as a younger Lancaster Merrin, to try and reignite the franchise for the 21st century. They send the former priest to Nigeria, where a church has been discovered, buried in the sand, 1500 years old. Obviously, they go in, and demonic happenings abound.

The Beginning is a retooled version of Dominion, which was released the next year. The two films then, being in essence alternate histories, alternate timelines, different interpretations of the same rough material (with production madness behind the scenes including directors being fired, dozens of cuts, etc.), means that there isn’t too much to choose between the two films with regard to plot.

However, The Beginning is the worst of the two, and illustrates the problems with 21st century horror succinctly: the scares are a dime a dozen, the formula worn down by age. In the case of this particular horror film, even Skarsgärd with all his talent can’t do anything to bring serious gravitas to the film. The slasher craze that Scream had restarted nearly a decade earlier shows its colours, depriving any chance of tension being built in the host, instead exorcising fear from every frame. They should have left this buried.

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3. Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (2005)

A film containing some footage from the original shoot with patch-ups, different scores, changes in cinematographer, and the lot, still manages to be better than The Beginning because it takes itself seriously. Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist is an atmosphere piece, a film about the slow takeover of evil, rather than hundreds of scares and blood and outlandish exorcism sequences.

Don’t misunderstand; this is essentially the same plot as The Beginning. However, there is a more serious tone, sequences simply allowed to brood, to gather darkening storm clouds. The final battle with the demon is much simpler, less extravagant, focused on the internal struggles of young Merrin (still Skarsgärd, the only cast member to stay on to finish both films).

There are still some dodgy CGI hyenas. There’s still the age-old trope of the native tribe with knowledge ignored by the white folk, who pay the price for it. But it tries, damn it. It tries to be introspective; it tries to create a sense of bleak atmosphere. Even if it trips and falls, it at least has a go at reaching for something almost impossibly beyond reach, and in the odd place it manages to succeed (if only for a short while). It’s (nearly) the film that was intended, and shows The Beginning how it should have been done much better.

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