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Fallen (1998)

One Cleaver

The Story: A police detective tries to track down and eliminate a murderous demon with the ability to jump from person to person.

This was a fine idea for a horror film. A fallen angel that can move from person to person with a vicious vendetta against a police officer who crossed it, and the cat-and-mouse games it plays with him as he tries to unravel the mystery. It’s not the newest idea in the world, but it is one with fine potential, and with a cast like this, how could it go wrong?

Let me tell you how. First, by opening with credits that jerk around like they’re being played on a broken, worn out film, announcing to the world, “Hey, we’re going to try to creep you out and depress you like ‘Seven’ did!” We can live with that though, so we stick around – everyone did opening credits like that for awhile, though “Seven” was the only good film with them.

Now comes the bad part, and keep in mind that the movie hasn’t really started yet: We know this is a movie about a demon that switches from body to body, and we know from the credits and previews that it intends to be dark and dreary with a twist ending. So the first line of dialogue is the absolute worst line a screenwriter could come up with: “Let me tell you about the time I almost died.” Well, why not just tell me how the damn thing is going to end, why don’t you? Hmmmm, am I supposed to think that the demon gets killed, but somehow outwits its nemesis and gets away in the end, so we can be shocked and bewildered that it was the demon that spoke these words? No, can’t be…

That’s not the worst of it, not by far. We can still redeem this flick and have some surprises and shocks along the way even though we blew the ending. Can’t we?

Next, we move into a very sloooooow-moving plot about how the demon sets up Detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington, who really should know better) to try to track it down while it jumps from person to person, committing murders remarkably like those of a man who Hobbes had put away and was executed at the beginning of the movie. Hobbes slowly discovers that a cop who dealt with this character 30 years before ended up committing suicide after seemingly killing several people in the same manners. Did the demon set him up?

Hobbes has a partner, of course, who only exists to disbelieve what’s going on and partake in a telegraphed plot twist later on (John Goodman, who also should know better). He also has a superior officer who is only in the movie for roughly the same reason (Donald Sutherland, ditto ten times over).

Hobbes meets the other cop’s daughter (The beautiful and talented Embeth Davidtz, who etc. etc.), who initially wants nothing to do with the case but eventually gives clues to the nature of what’s going on here, since she’s a biblical scholar. Funny thing is, this will insult anyone with any knowledge of the Bible, since none of this nonsense is in there and only gives us another idiotic plot point to try to ignore. Maybe she uses a different version… This is her sole reason to be in the movie: to simply be a source of information, not an actual character.

Now comes more of what I consider unpardonable offenses: it turns out that the demon will live forever unless it is without a body to inhabit for thirty seconds. We have a nearly indestructible spirit here but it is bound by human measurements of time and stuck with an easy-to-remember period like thirty seconds. Forgivable in a dumb B movie, but this is supposed to be a believable A-list flick here. Director Hoblit also is quick to rub our nose in the fact that the demon can inhabit animals also. This goes along with Hobbes’s slowly dawning realization that the previous cop was framed by the demon for the murders. Hmmmm, do you think maybe the first cop tried to trap the demon in that remote cabin, then committed suicide to try to trap the demon more than thirty seconds away from the nearest living victim to inhabit, not realizing that it could use animals to get back to civilization? Oh yeah, the demon, though possessed of all these supernatural powers, can only travel so fast, you know…

Well, by the time this movie was halfway over, I felt like I was being screamed at about what the next “twist” was going to be and how the end was going to come together. At least 30 minutes before the end I knew exactly what was going to happen and how. I know it was supposed to be “scary,” and I know it was supposed to be depressing and shocking like the conclusion of “Seven.” Instead, I could only be angry at the idiotic uses of transparent plot devices and constant repetition of these devices to reach this ending. I did not really like “Seven,” (probably because my date hated it so much it wrecked a nice evening and took me weeks to get her to forgive me), but at least it was honestly and intelligently plotted and filmed and the surprises truly came out of left field. It was not insulting. This film assumes that the audience has the collective IQ of a turnip and will accept any convoluted, idiotic story device as long as it all seems to come together in the end. I’m sorry, but no one (besides a few anti-horror critics who actually gave this drivel fairly positive reviews) can turn his brain off so completely for so long.

In conclusion, even if this film were not overlong, dull and indifferently acted by great actors simply collecting an easy paycheck, the obviousness and idiocy of the transparent plot would be enough for me to recommend staying away. This movie has got to be the ultimate example of missed opportunities and botched ideas, and is to be avoided at all costs. This is my pick for the worst and most frustrating “original” big-budget horror film of the nineties.

Stare at a wall for two hours instead – it will be more entertaining and a wall is less likely to insult your intelligence.

-Jason Pohlman