It always amazes me in films when characters quickly accept insane situations. Horror movies are good at this. Think of The Ring. A video tape that kills you seven days after watching it? Sure I’ll believe it! Maybe I would believe things that seemed crazy to me mere days or even hours ago if they were happening to me too. In Fallen, Denzel Washington has this experience. He’s a cop accustomed to dealing with criminals, routinely investigating murders. He’s done his job to put away the bad guys, make the streets safer, and is about as far from spiritual or religious as one can get. So when a serial killer he helped bring down is put to death by the state, what’s he to believe when the crimes start-up again? That the devil is real? It’s an excellent premise for a movie. The execution of this premise falls short of its potential.
Washington’s character of Jon Hobbes is the star of the precinct. His biggest accomplishment is catching Edgar Reese, an absolute lunatic of a serial killer who taunts Hobbes even as he’s IN the gas chamber about to die. The last thing Reese says to him is a riddle, which Hobbes dismisses as the ramblings of a raving lunatic. However, when that same riddle is written on the wall of a homicide Hobbes is investigating, the mystery deepens. It’s this that spurns Hobbes and his partner Jonesy (John Goodman) into the plot. This is not a spoiler, as it’s pretty clear from about five minutes into the movie something weird is going on, but a devil or demon (not THE devil, the film makes clear) had been possessing Reese. With Reese dead, the presence now moves from person to person, passing through touch, to begin a new cycle of violence.
Washington does a good if somewhat forced job. He is definitely an incredible actor, but the writing here is what fails him. Nothing is given anytime to grow in the just over 90 minutes this film clocks in at. We meet his brother Art, father to a son named Sam, both of whom live with him. Art is somewhat mentally “slow”….I think? This is never confirm or denied in the movie. It’s quite possible that Gabriel Casseus just played him so timid and soft-spoken that he came off as mentally deficient. I’m not judging either way, but it’s a small detail that is never explored, but should have been. I liked the dynamic Hobbes had with his brother, but the same cannot be said for those around him at the precinct. Washington and Goodman have some chemistry, but the scenes with James Gandolfini as another cop, known only as “Lou”, all felt just a bit off. Any banter they had would have been better off with Jonesy and in the end the character of Lou serves almost no purpose. Donald Sutherland plays Lt. Stanton and apparently prepared for this role by reading up on every possible cop cliché. “I’m going to need your gun!” “It’s not me, but the brass upstairs wants to know.”
This leads to another issue with the film, namely that it feels VERY dated. Not knowing the year until after I watched it, I would have said late 80’s to early 90’s. Turns out, 1998. Woah, really? Hobbes doing research on his computer with a three button mouse was 1998? The internet looking like the old Prodigy service was still around in 1998? Nobody had a cell phone either. I’m aware that’s a whole fourteen years ago and maybe I’m remembering the time period wrong, but judging it from a 2012 perspective it seems silly. As Hobbes and Jonesy discuss the riddle Reese left them, it took everything I had to not scream “GOOGLE IT!” at the screen. Which made Hobbes’ later research into something else on his olde Commodore 64 all the more maddening.
There are positives here, namely in how the whole demon possessing people’s bodies thing is just by a touch. There’s a couple of really excellent scenes in which multiple people are taken over within a few seconds of each other. A chase scene in particular is very well done, as the female lead (if you can even call her that) runs from the demon on a busy street, and the line of possession just goes from person to person to try to catch up with her. It’s a unique kind of chase scene that I’ve ever seen in a film, think the Agents of the Matrix if there were even faster at taking people over.
Embeth Davidtz plays Gretta Milano, a theology teacher who is basically used as a “Religion for Dummies” book by Hobbes. There’s some hint at a love story and how she’s handling this whole demon thing, but much like anything involving any character other than Hobbes or the demon, it’s left unexplored. Given how the film ends and how long her and Hobbes have actually known each other, her position in the ending seems a bit curious.
Aaahh the ending. This is where the film went from “this is ok” to “what….WHAT….REALLY?!” for me. I’m not going to spoil it here. It makes sense in this story. It follows the totally arbitrary rules of possession Fallen establishes. But it wrote itself into a corner. It reached a point where I could see what was coming, which meant there were only two possible conclusions. One: Have an enormous plot hole. Two: Be dumb. Fallen went with option number two.
Fallen is not a bad film, it’s a film that tries to do much. Too many characters, not enough time given for any of them to grow in any sort of way. An ending that doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the film. It’s worth a watch if you’re checking out random stuff on Netflix and are into the plot idea, but those looking for a high quality thriller have many better options available.