(Gregory Hoblit, USA, 1998)


It is hard, in the wake of The X-Files, for filmmakers to invent any successful, new variations on the supernatural serial-killer mystery. Everything from basic plot ideas (mad genius villain, identity switches, copycat killing) to philosophical themes (the doppelganger, Good vs Evil), and even creepy minutiae of image and sound (torch beams piercing the dark, the low singing of banal tunes), has seemingly been already exhausted.

Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen arrives at the fag end of this ’90s genre. Its premise owes a debt to such vigorous horror films as The Hidden (1987) and Shocker (1989). An ancient demon spirit with a taste for serial murder haunts a big city, and it survives by passing from body to body by touch.

A cop, Hobbes (Denzel Washington in a typically virtuous role), overcomes his innate rationalism in time to realise that he is being pursued and elaborately framed by this demon.

Nicholas Kazan wrote the off-beat, highly intelligent scripts of At Close Range (1986) and Reversal of Fortune (1990). But his attempt here to update the conventions of film noir – right down to a tricky Sunset Boulevard-style voice-over – falls disappointingly flat.

After a promising beginning, the plot (especially the body-swap ritual) becomes repetitive and tedious. None of the intriguing themes announced in early scenes, such as the ambiguity of law and goodness, are explored satisfactorily.

Films of this type are often better the longer they manage to plunge the viewer into a state of delicious uncertainty – tossing up, like the hero, between rational and supernatural explanations for all the ghastly things that are occurring. Fallen loses grip of this delicate suspense once Hobbes all too quickly unravels the mystery that torments him.

Among the cast, Donald Sutherland (as a smooth police lieutenant) and John Goodman (as Hobbes’ partner) turn in perfunctory, one-dimensional performances. Only Elias Koteas (Crash, 1996) makes an impression in a regrettably small role.

Hoblit tries to jazz up proceedings with the usual stylistic affectations – shaky, grainy point-of-view shots and eerily enhanced sound effects – but these, too, quickly grow tiresome.

© Adrian Martin March 1998

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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