Movie reviews are a funny thing, especially when it comes to horror films. I’ve written of my love for 1998’s critically maligned Fallen before. I have also challenged many fellow horror cinemaphiles to give it a chance, with nearly all of them reporting back to say it was one of the best movies they’d ever seen.
If the film’s 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes still has you feeling hesitant about giving it a chance, then allow me to (hopefully) convince you to watch it.
The movie opens with the voice of Detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington) narrating over a scene of him gasping and crawling through the snow, offering to tell the viewer the story of how he almost died.
Months earlier, Hobbes watches as Edgar Reese, a serial killer who he helped capture, is put to death. Soon after that, he and his partner Jonsey (John Goodman) investigate new string of murders that appear to be mimicking Reese’s exact same M.O.
Unfortunately, what seems like a basic copycat case ends up being much, much worse. Turns out that the killer is actually a demon that can pass from host to host simply by touch. As if that weren’t terrifying enough, the eldritch entity also has it in for Hobbes, both for to trying stop its reign and because the demon is unable to possess him.
As the demon escalates things by entering various criminal suspects, witnesses, and even friends/family, Hobbes desperately searches for a way to stop the ancient killer while everyone around him believes that he is losing his mind….or that he might even be a murderer himself.
Denzel Washington is great, of course. He’s good in everything, but the tortured/maligned hero is his bread and butter. Add in a cast that includes John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, Embeth Davidtz, and James Gandolfini, and a dry reading of the phone book could still have a chance at being halfway decent.
The script by Nicholas Kazan, however, is anything but boring or conventional. Instead of simply having the demon go after Hobbes via brute force, it smothers him in what often feels like a one-sided chess match. The entity takes possession of coworkers, family members, and even case witnesses, all in an effort to bring Hobbes’ life crashing down around him.
When Hobbes eventually develops a theory on how to defeat the demon, he’s fighting a battle with stakes that are much higher than his own life or sanity. By the time we reach the film’s chilling climax, Kazan and director Gregor Hoblit have set us up for what ends up being one of the most powerful and daring film endings you’ll ever see.
Also deserving of credit are the host of extras and bit-part cast members, who do a fantastic job shifting between normal looking folks and demon possessed puppets.
What Doesn’t Work
The film does a pretty good job sticking with its own rules about how the demon passes from person to person—and why they don’t remember being possessed. The exception for Hobbes makes for a great narrative, but it still feels pretty contrived.
If this review inspires you to watch Fallen…and you still don’t think that it’s one of the best horror movies of all time…then I’ll claim that I don’t remember anything after some random dude on the street grabbed my arm, including writing this article.
In all seriousness, it really is a fantastic film, especially for the Halloween season. Despite being a 1990’s supernatural thriller, the lack of special effects that were needed ensure that it still holds up. Great scripts with great actors tend to help with that, as well.
The only downside to seeing this one is that it may ruin one of the Rolling Stones’ most famous songs for you—which really isn’t too much of a loss. Watch this film in the dark with a room full of people you think you know and love. You won’t be disappointed.
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