Supernatural ideas run rampant in Fallen
In 1992, a film was released that scared most anyone who saw it. The film didn't have many of those "jump" moments that films such as Scream used to scare us. Instead, it relied on its ideas to frighten viewers. That film was the underrated Candyman. It was also a supernatural horror story, but didn't rely on cliched story-telling methods.
Fallen is the latest film which derives its plot from this concept. The film sets up an astonishingly smart concept, but fails to live up to the promise it provides. Fallen is one of those films that you watch, and while you watch, you pick out the different films it copied from. Normally I don't have a problem with a film that wants to use an idea that another film used previously, but when it does it so obviously and so uneffectively, that's when the problem arises. Fallen is riddled with so many interesting ideas that it doesn't have enough creative energy to exercise a fair amount of originality. What we expect isn't what we get, and when the film ends, we are left with quite a few more questions than answers.
Fallen begins with an obligatory and unnecessary monologue, showing a nameless man running and crawling through the snow. Obviously he is being chased, but by what? This question is never answered until the final moments of the film. His monologue explains that he won't begin his story from the beginning, but from the middle (a cheap gimmick, if you ask me). The main portion of the plot begins with Detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington) arriving at a prison in order to witness the execution of Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas). Reese is a convicted serial killer, caught by Hobbes, and Reese vows that he will get revenge. From this point on, we know that Reese will get revenge, but how and when is the rest of the plot.
Reese is executed in a gas chamber (we actually witness this horrific scene), but once dead, Azazel, an evil spirit, is released from his body. The camera assumes the point of view of this spirit, letting us see the spirit's perspective. Director Gregory Hoblit uses the camera to good effect during these moments, filling the screen with orange colors. The spirit moves over the heads of onlookers and finally approaches one of the guards. The spirit takes over his body and the film spins into a Seven clone. The next day, Hobbes is called to the scene of a crime, where a man was killed and placed into his bathtub. Also in the apartment is neatly arranged table with a box of cereal, milk, and a bowl--a signature of sorts Reese left at his crimes. Hobbes begins to suspect a copycat, but soon, he suspects otherwise.
In possibly the best scene in the film, Hobbes discovers that Reese's spirit is still around, encompassing different bodies. Sitting in the police office, a stranger walks in and starts singing a song Reese sang just before his death. The stranger touches an officer nearby, who hence turns around and start singing the same song. Hobbes thinks it is a practical joke, but when some of the officers can't recall singing it, he discovers that Reese is living up to his vow. This one scene had me smiling all the way through, as I thought about the cleverness of the plot. However, it soon gets a little too clever, trying to mix too many films into one bag. The ending tries for a surprise (reminiscent of Scream), which it does, but just as we settle in for a nice resolution, the screenplay spins around 180 degrees, giving new meaning to the opening of the film. And while this seems like a great ending at first, it actually brings up more questions (questions I would love to ask in this review if they wouldn't ruin the ending) and the dreadful feeling of a sequel.
And yet, the questions aren't the worst thing about the film. I have nothing against a film which steals ideas from another one, but when it does it poorly, that really grates me. The premise of the film is genuinely intriguing, but the actual plot ruins it. The screenplay, by Nicholas Kazan, tries to copy Seven, The Frighteners, and other supernatural/serial killer films, but instead it comes off more as a poorly constructed clone. The director tries to film his murder scene sequences like David Fincher (of Seven fame), and certain aspects of the murder scenes seem like The Frighteners. Neither works as well, and soon these scenes distract from the potential suspense that could be gained.
However, the film does have its highlights, mostly coming from the actors and some select scenes. In the most suspenseful scene in the film, a theology teacher (Embeth Davidtz) is the mouse in a cat-and-mouse chase sequence, a scene which would normally ruin the pace of a film. But since the pace is already lagging, the scene is a joy to watch. The slow build of suspense is missing from most of the film, but due to the inspired premise, the scene is given an added edge. Although we don't really care about the Davidtz character, the direction is taut and the cinematography is impressive. Unfortunately, after this scene, the pace drops again, snuffing out any glimmer of hope for an exciting final half.
The performances are a little contained, with the exception of a few actors. Washington is a little wooden which limits his performance from connecting with the audience. In comparison, John Goodman has a delightful time as Washington's partner. Goodman has a key role in the film and provides one of the few surprises. Elias Koteas also gives an energetic and over-the-top performance, but he is limited to a small role. Embeth Davidtz is very limited in her flat character, but she fairs slightly better than Washington. Donald Sutherland gives another good performance as the chief of police. The real surprise of the film is Aida Turturro, who gives one of the best performances in a very small role. She has a lot of fun with the role, and I would have liked to see more of her.
Fallen is rated R for violence and language. Director Hoblit uses the camera to good effect in Fallen, but his lack of pacing hurts the overall film. The ending of the film tries to copy the success of The Usual Suspects and Seven, but it comes across as an artificial attempt at surprising the audience. At first, it works, but the narration at the beginning and end of the film brings up a lot of questions. I would have recommended the film had it not been for this ending. It may seem that I hated the film, but it was enjoyable while watching it. After the film, it'll have you wondering what happened more than leaving you satisfied.
**1/2 out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie