Fallen - DVD Review

'when Hoblit gets going, he really starts to impress with some clever uses of the main plot device'

Fallen is one of those average films that I remember much more fondly than I potentially have any justification for. Released in 1998 I suspect I didn't first see it until a number of years later and remember thinking that it was an enjoyable serial killer film with paranormal leanings that trod heavily on the toes of The X-Files (the film of which came out in the same year), rather than Seven, which its marketing directly referenced. Watching it again, it was surprising to find that most of my original feelings on the film hold true: Fallen is a watchable, albeit workmanlike, supernatural mystery with some outstanding moments of cultured direction from director Gregory Hoblit.

It helps that, even now, Fallen's cast is a really quite outstanding mix of seasoned character actors and Hollywood A-listers. Denzel Washington, on the rise from Philadelphia, Crimson Tide and Courage Under Fire, leads us through the narrative as protagonist John Hobbes, a detective on the trail of a demon which moves from person-to-person by touch. Washington does a good job but the occasional clunky exposition is mainly smoothed over by talent as varied as John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, Elias Koteas and Embeth Davidtz, who's recently been popping up on TV in Californication and Mad Men. The bit players ensure that we're never disinterested in the plot and whilst Koteas is given the most to work with (a death-row inmate, apparently one of the first possessed by the demon) Sutherland and Goodman are perfect as the other members of Hobbes' detective fraternity. 'Yeah, that's in the bible' quips Goodman's affable Jonesy after examining a note from the killer which reads, 'I'll fuck you up and down, left and right'.

Hoblit seems to take a while to really embrace the possibilities of the plot and there are numerous moments when we get stock schlocker scenes, narrated by an out of place voiceover. At one point Denzel's monotone actually tells us that 'there are times in your life when you know things will never be the same again' before he wanders in to a creepy abandoned cabin with a suspicious lack of daylight. Ooh... could there be something key to the plot in there I wonder?

But when Hoblit gets going, he really starts to impress with some clever uses of the main plot device. In the first scene not involving Koteas where the demon and Hobbes go head-to-head, Hoblit has the methodically taunting evil-doer move person-to-person through a crowded street, always pausing after every touch to look back at Hobbes with a barely hidden sneer, or line of snappy dialogue. In another, Davidtz has to escape the demon as it moves through a line of people, she running along the line as the line almost inperceptively moves to touch each individual present.

It all hints at a build-up to a cracking finale which, when it arrives, does show off Hoblit's direction but struggles under the weight of details about the demon, apparently thrown in at the last minute to enable the western-style showdown. Unlike a fine scotch then, after twelve years Fallen proves to not quite have the kinetic energy of its contemporaries to carry it to a rousing conclusion but, despite this, there's still a significant amount of craft here to enjoy.

Look further...

'Hoblit, seemingly undecided about the type of movie he wants to make, mixes theological stupidity in with fluctuating film stocks and skewed camera angles' - Empire (Caroline Westbrook), 2/5


  1. I've always had a soft spot for Fallen. One of the mid-major films that never gets enough respect because it's not so good those who seek out classics seek, but it's not so bad the fans of cheesy horror films seek it out. So it gets stuck in that in between zone only fans of the performers and those around end up catching.

    But, never the less, it's just an enjoyable horror/thriller.

  2. I think that's right although I admit I've never thought of it like that. It's just a solid, mid-range, thriller with some things that work and others that don't. Well worth watching though, especially, out of the two groups you describe, for horror fans, who won't find anything new but will find an interesting effort.