Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Paul Schrader's "Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist" does something risky and daring in this time of jaded horror movies: It takes evil seriously. There really are dark satanic forces in the Schrader version, which takes a priest forever scarred by the Holocaust and asks if he can ever again believe in the grace of God. The movie is drenched in atmosphere and dread, as we'd expect from Schrader, but it also has spiritual weight and texture, boldly confronting the possibility that Satan may be active in the world. Instead of cheap thrills, Schrader gives us a frightening vision of a good priest who fears goodness may not be enough.
The film's hero, Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard), considers himself an ex-priest; during World War II he was forced by Nazis to choose some villagers for death in order that a whole village not be killed. This is seen by a Nazi officer as an efficient way to undermine Merrin's belief in his own goodness, and indeed forces the priest to commit evil to avoid greater evil. This is not theologically sound; the idea is to do no evil and leave it to God to sort out the consequences.
His trauma from this experience hurls Merrin out of the priesthood and into an archeological dig in Africa, where he is helping to excavate a remarkably well-preserved church, buried in the sand. Why this church, in this place? It doesn't fit in architectural, historical or religious terms, and seems intended not so much to celebrate God as to trap something unspeakably evil that lies beneath it.
Schrader is famously a director of moral values crossed with dangerous choices; his own movies ("Hard Core," "Light Sleeper," "The Comfort of Strangers") and those he has written for Martin Scorsese ("Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull") deal with men obsessed with guilt and sin. His "Dominion" is not content to simply raise the curtain on William Friedkin's classic "The Exorcist" (1974) but is more ambitious: It wants to observe the ways Satan seduces man.