Unlike my previous underrated horror gem posts, the subject of this one is more recent. Fallen came out in 1998. It was directed by Gregory Hoblit, and starred Denzel Washington, Donald Sutherland, John Goodman, and Embeth Davidtz. A pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini and Elias Koteas had supporting roles. Also, on a more obscure note, horror character actor Robert Joy (Land of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes remake) had an early small role.
In Fallen Denzel is John Hobbes, a homicide detective. A series of murders happen, which are particularly puzzling since they appear to be committed by a culprit who has already been executed. As the story progresses, Hobbes begins to suspect that a demon may be involved, one which appears to be capable of possessing a series of people. Sutherland plays his boss, Goodman and Gandolfini his fellow cops, and Davidtz is the expert on demonology.
(SPOILER ALERT—DON’T READ THE FOLLOWING FOUR PARAGRAPHS UNLESS YOU WANT PLOT POINTS RUINED) I was impressed with the acting in this movie, especially in light of horror’s (let’s face it) often shaky acting standards. The demon, Azazel, possesses multiple characters, one by one, and each actor does a good job of showing this transformation. I particularly liked the scenes when Azazel jumps from person to person quickly—they were nicely frightening and effective. Plus the idea that this was possible simply from bodily contact was very chilling, and added a new twist on the concept of possession by making it instantaneous. Kind of like the 1982 version of The Thing—the characters weren’t sure who their friends were anymore, and this leads to a paranoia that I always find unsettling, and therefore ghoulishly entertaining.
The story’s nasty, too—the body count is fairly high, sometimes of characters that you care about, and evil deeds are sometimes committed by (demon-possessed) children, even. I really identified with Hobbes—he’s a decent man and talented detective, doing his part to catch criminals, and yet forces beyond his control are conspiring to take away his reputation, his freedom, and his life.
Granted, the movie isn’t perfect. There are a couple of significant plot holes, such as why Embeth Davidtz’s character, Gretta Milano, neglected to tell Hobbes that demons could possess animals (which would have changed the whole ending). Either she didn’t know (unlikely considering she’s made it her life’s study) or she didn’t think it was relevant information (again, unlikely, since Hobbes clearly needed all the help he could get.) Also, there’s the question of, if possession is so easy and quick, why doesn’t Azazel (and other demons) do it much more frequently, and rape and murder thousands, or millions, to spread misery and fear (and to have fun)? I guess the possible answers to this are they do and every war, serial killer, etc., is demon-caused, or that they’re limited/thwarted by agents of good (maybe angels?). But, for me, these are relatively minor quibbles, and they clearly don’t affect my enjoyment of the film. All movies, especially when they involve unrealistic or supernatural elements, will have at least a few illogical/impossible issues.
I also liked seeing Embeth Davidtz again, particularly in the Gretta role. I first became aware of her in the third Evil Dead movie (Army of Darkness), where she plays Ash’s love interest (Sheila) and a demon-possessed woman (Evil Sheila, and no, she doesn’t sport a goatee like Evil Spock in the original Star Trek episode). Kind of funny that she’s still battling demons, across the years and in different movies. Also, staying on her, I appreciated the fact that her character was asexual, even though she’s undeniably attractive. A lot of movies would have forced a tacked-on romance between Gretta and Hobbes, even though in this case it would have been unrealistic and detracted from the story.
(SAFE FOR EVERYONE—NO SPOILERS) In closing, then, if you haven’t seen it, you might want to give Fallen a look—it’s a good film in a frightening but not overly violent or gory type way. Be forewarned, though, that there’s a very real chance that the Stones song “Time is on My Side” will get stuck in your head after viewing.