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Seraphim Falls starts out as a watered down version of The Outlaw Josey Wales and somehow ends up as a bizarre old west take on Apocalypse Now. It works as a revenge/chase movie, but when things get wacky towards the end the movie almost loses its way.
It begins with a frantic and painful scramble to escape by Gideon (Pierce Brosnan). Hit by a gunshot from the trees, Gideon flings himself down a snowy mountainside to avoid long-distance death. What follows is a desperate escape through a gorgeous and brutally cold mountain landscape as he’s pursued by a group of hunters led by a grim man named Carver (Liam Neeson). The film follows Gideon and Carver down out of the mountains and through forests, fields, and barren landscapes as their deadly game of pursuit ranges across the old West. Carver is motivated by revenge, Gideon only wants to live. Their bare fisted battle of wits and survival instincts leaves both men brutalized, battered, and in the end completely broken.
The chase is well done, and grim. Both Neeson and Brosnan drop their British accents to play cowboys. How successful they are at doing that is hard to say. Neither character is much of a talker and big chunks of the movie are spent in complete silence as Carver and Gideon huff and puff and struggle on their way. Their performances are much more internalized, and both men, brilliant actors, say volumes with the exhausted squint of their eyes.
If writer/director David Von Ancken had stuck to their desperate chase, he might have had a capable revenge pic on his hands. But in the last half hour or so the movie can’t figure out where to end. It starts to drag, and as it gets longer and longer the film completely loses its way. Suddenly it’s not about the power of these two men’s wills, but instead it’s about mystic naked Indians and the ghostly visage of Anjelica Huston. It’s about the time that Huston shows up that Seraphim Falls completely lost me. Is she a ghost, a hallucination, some strange manifestation of God? And what the hell does any of this have to do with the chase movie I was watching? It’s frustrating, and it’s the worst kind of copout. It’s as if Ancken couldn’t figure out how to finish his film and decided to eat shrooms and write down whatever he hallucinated.
The last ten or fifteen minutes are really the worst, but to me that’s not quite enough to ruin the entire movie. The first half in particular is visceral and taut; unusual performances from Neeson and Brosnan make it well worth watching if you’re a fan of either actor. Just don’t expect to be satisfied by the ending. You’d be better off diving head first into the concrete below your seat. That’s the only way it’s going to make any sense.