Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Prophecy

"Did you ever notice how in the Bible, when ever God needed to punish someone, or make an example, or whenever God needed a killing, he sent an angel? Did you ever wonder what a creature like that must be like? A whole existence spent praising your God, but always with one wing dipped in blood. Would you ever really want to see an angel?"

So asks our protagonist Thomas Daggett at one point during The Prophecy (1995). Later, as if to prove this point, our villain Gabriel says, "I'm an angel. I kill firstborns while their mamas watch. I turn cities into salt. I even, when I feel like it, rip the souls from little girls, and from now till kingdom come, the only thing you can count on in your existence is never understanding why."

Between these two quotes, one can grasp The Prophecy's style and appeal. Equal parts police procedural and apocalyptic thriller, the film is simultaneously grandiose and subtle in its scope, using characters and dialogue to suggest nothing less than a Biblical war in Heaven as the battle extends to Earth and humanity gets drawn into the conflict. Horror movies often work best when they suggest absolute terror and awe, a concept understood by The Prophecy's helmer, writer-director Gregory Widen.

Los Angeles detective Thomas Daggett (Elias Koteas), who almost became a priest, investigates the death of a man found with no eyes and both male and female reproductive organs (among other discrepancies about his body). Daggett's search takes him to a desert town in Arizona where a pair of angels, Gabriel (Christopher Walken) and Simon (Eric Stoltz), seek the darkest soul in existence that could turn the tide of a second war in Heaven prophesied in a long-lost chapter in the Book of Revelations. The soul ends up in the body of a young American Indian girl named Mary (Moriah Shining Dove Snyder), making her the target of Gabriel, who has launched the war out of jealousy and resentment that God has put mankind in His grace over angels. Daggett and Mary's teacher (Virginia Madsen) struggle to protect her when they're approached by an unexpected ally: Lucifer (Viggo Mortensen), who's not keen on having Gabriel become a competitor.

With a subject matter and themes about angels, faith, wars in heaven, and fire and brimstone, The Prophecy threatens to veer off into campy excess and pretense, but the performers really go a long way to selling it and making it captivating. One of the criticisms I've had against Christopher Walken is how rarely he seems to act. In a lot of movies, he just seems to be playing some variation of the kooky Christopher Walken persona, but The Prophecy actually affords him the opportunity to act, and he hits it out of the park. Yes, he's still weird, but it makes sense here because he's playing a being that in many ways is superior to man (whom he refers to as "talking monkeys."). He makes a number of larger-than-life pronouncements (see above) and maintains a soft-spoken menace. He also has a cheeky sense of humor, taunting the human characters on a number of occasions and reanimating the dead to serve him because he hasn't learned how to drive. This really is one of his best roles.

Stealing the show in the third act is Viggo Mortensen as Lucifer. He's chilling and threatening and yet strangely magnetic and alluring. Like Gabriel, he shares no affection for mankind ("God is love. I don't love you."), but helping them suits his purposes. Every time he's on screen, you're just waiting for him to strike like the loathsome serpent he is. Also very good is Eric Stoltz as Simon. Stoltz is normally a low-key, subdued actor, but he's holds his own with Walken as a presence here. He's initially presented as ambiguously threatening with an unknown agenda, and it's only gradually we realize he's on our side. Of the remaining leads, Koteas and Madsen do all right, but they're greatly overshadowed by the angels and really don't have to do much except play catch-up.

The horror presented in The Prophecy is one of suggestion: what will happen if Gabriel succeeds in taking the dark soul? The implications of what he has in store for mankind are eerie as are the not-so veiled threats Lucifer offers about what happens after death. Next to these supernatural beings, humans are completely at their mercy, and we're left wondering just what these fallen angels are capable of. Widen also works in some stunning imagery: the skeleton of an angel in the desert, Gabriel causing the corpse of an underling to ignite, and visions of angels being slaughtered. Disappointingly, this is the only feature Widen directed.

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