When faced with particularly nasty examples of man's inhumanity to man, people, especially those who live in ivory towers, tend to react with denial or at least refuse to believe that such things could have rational explanations. This explains why Hollywood likes to combine genres of conventional thrillers with supernatural horrors. Such ombinations often end with failures. Fallen, 1998 film directed by Gregory Hoblit, isn't among them.
Protagonist of the film is John Hobbes (played by Denzel Washington), Philadelphia police detective who managed to catch Edgar Reese (played by Elias Koteas), vicious serial killer. Hobbes attends killer's execution and sees that, much to his surprise, Reese doesn't feel bothered by his upcoming death. Soon afterwards Philadelphia is again struck with the series of murders. The killing method is the carbon copy of Reese's and the killer leaves cryptic messages to Hobbes. Detective investigates and finds that the similar case occurred some thirty years ago, resulting with policeman committing suicide. Hobbes finds policeman's daughter Gretta Milano (played by Embeth Davidtz), theology student and religious fanatic who offers her own explanation for the sinister events. According to her, the killings are the work of Azazel, demon with the ability to take over people's bodies.
Basic concept behind Fallen isn't particularly original and looks like a basis for third rate episode of The X-Files. Thankfully, scriptwriter Nicholas Kazan knows how to avoid traps and cliches that have plagued many similar films in the past. Most of the characters have depth and are far from being one-dimensional. Veteran television director Gregory Hoblit contributes to film by employing Philadelphia locations in order to make the film realistic and supernaturally gloomy in the same time (M. Night Shyamalan did the same in The Sixth Sense one year later). Some of the scenes in the film are truly terrifying and arouse the viewers' fear of the irrational, although this film barely uses special effects. The acting is good, although Denzel Washington doesn't exploit his full potential because of insufficiently developed characters. He is easily overshadowed by Elias Koteas who chews scenery at the beginning of the film with the brilliant portrayal of pure psychopathic evil. For the most part, Fallen is very good, but in the second half it succumbs to cliches, including the plot twist that could have been easily predicted by moderately experienced audience. Despite that, Fallen is effective genre film that leaves unmistakably good impression, which is something most of Hollywood's supernatural thrillers usually fail to do.
RATING: 6/10 (++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.films.reviews on March 22nd 2004)
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