The Prophecy (Dimension Home Video, 1995)

 

I didn't mean to review this movie. I didn't even mean to watch this movie. But it was a late Saturday night in November 2002, and I'd finally watched every moment of The Fellowship of the Ring extended edition DVD, including the easter eggs...and I was going through Viggo Mortensen withdrawal. "Please," I prayed to whatever higher power might be listening, "send me some fresh Viggo. Since The Two Towers is more than a month away, provide me with a Viggo fix and I promise I'll be a good girl for the rest of the month."

And lo...there on a high-number cable channel was The Prophecy, which I had never seen. Now, I am not much of a horror movie aficionado, but I am a fan of religious films. Love The Rapture. Absolutely adore Dogma. I even like bad movies in which Christopher Reeve plays a priest. And Christopher Walken creeps me out in a really good way, so I figured that any movie featuring him an archangel was probably worth checking out even without the Viggo factor. I happily grabbed my Ben & Jerry's and sat down to watch.

The Ben & Jerry's turned out to be a mistake -- in fact, I do not recommend popcorn, nachos or especially Red-Hots during The Prophecy. In the first minutes, an ex-priest turned police detective named Thomas Daggett (get it? Doubting Thomas!) starts investigating the bloody, horrible murder of an unknown violent ultra-goth guy in a bad mask and wig. Now, I had been warned not to expect much Viggo in this film -- he's only in it for about ten minutes total -- so when I saw the bad guy drop after trying to rip the heart out of Eric Stoltz, I sighed, "Oh well, that was probably Viggo." And I went back to watching the film, which by now was getting into the following intriguing plot:

Thomas (Elias Koteas) discovers that the dead man in black has the DNA of a fetus, the genitalia of an androgyne and no eyeballs. In fact, the bad guy is an angel, in league with the archangel Gabriel (Walken) who has started a war in heaven because of his bitter resentment that God gave souls to humans. Gabriel is trying to find a human soul so completely evil that he can use it as a blueprint for his killer angels, so they can fight off the pro-human angels and close Heaven to humankind forever. To his delight, a vicious, cannibalistic, utterly irredeemable army colonel has just died.

But good angel Simon gets to the colonel's corpse first, steals his soul, and hides it in the body of an innocent young Native American girl named -- wait for it -- Mary. So Gabriel must pack up his suicidal sidekick and head off to rip Mary's heart from her body. Thomas, who learns of Gabriel's true feelings towards humans via an ancient Bible with an extra chapter in the Book of Revelation, must try to find a way to stop him. Mary's teacher Catherine and the elders of Mary's grandmother's tribe will fight to to protect the girl as well, but really, what good are they going to be against a guy trained by God to unleash plagues and kill firstborn sons?

Admittedly it is a pretty silly notion that a brutal and vicious archangel, played by Walken with an Elvis hairdo and a hysterically dry sense of humor, would need advice from an American military officer whose biggest claim to infamy seems to have been cutting the faces off his victims. Where was Gabriel when Hitler was dying? Fortunately, what Gabriel lacks in common sense, he makes up for in cool wit and classiness. He tells terrifying fairy tales to schoolchildren; he rolls his eyes in disgust at the number of patients who will get well when he goes into an emergency room to recruit a new apprentice. But apparently taking mortal form has some disadvantages even for angels, for Gabriel proves vulnerable to gunshot wounds and traffic accidents. They don't stop him, but they do slow him down.

Even so, it's hard to root for someone as dull as Thomas to save someone as sweetly, innocently clichéd as Mary. Fortunately, they're not the only ones fighting the charismatic, cunning Gabriel. For if Gabriel succeeds in keeping human souls out of Heaven forever, he will, in essence, be creating a second Hell. And the master of the original doesn't like that idea one bit: "Two Hells is one Hell too many." So Lucifer pops in to talk strategy with Thomas.

Over the years, Hollywood has given us many good reasons to want to go to Hell -- Jack Nicholson as the Devil, Gabriel Byrne as the Devil, Elizabeth Hurley as the Devil, to name a few. But nobody is ever going to make a case for the appeal of everlasting damnation like the luscious Viggo Mortensen, who turns out to be very much undead. He appears as Lucifer with a Bible-movie beard and long hair, in a black suit like a photo-negative of Jesus. He flashes those blue eyes. He eats a dead rose. He gives new meaning to the word "temptation." Nnngh!

You know how seriously Mortensen takes Aragorn? That's how seriously he takes Lucifer, who is truly a master at getting people where they live. He slinks up behind Thomas, wraps his arms around him and whispers hotly in his ear that he always enjoyed listening to little Tommy's childhood prayers, when Tommy was so worried that the Devil was hiding under his bed...and he was! Lucifer has some scheme to get Gabriel to doubt his faith in God, which will cost the angel Heaven or something like that. I'm not really clear on the details and I don't think Thomas is either because in the end he fights Gabriel not with theology but with a gun, a metal bar and a truck. It's clear that Thomas can focus on little beyond Lucifer's lips against his earlobe, and who can blame him?

Anyway, the Devil turns up to try to stop his old colleague from killing Mary during a Native American ceremony to drive the evil soul out of her body. Gabriel utters the immortal line, "Lucifer! Sitting in your basement, sulking over your breakup with the Boss!" And Lucifer licks his face. The war in heaven is reduced to a clash of these titans, yet it's so bloody stylish that the absence of angel armies doesn't seem like any great loss. Theologically, it's impossible to take The Prophecy seriously anyway. We learn early on that God has abandoned humans to the fate of the seraphic struggle, with human souls moldering in their graves until it's settled. Thomas pieces together the titular prophecy with the help of an angelic alphabet from some version of the Qabalah, a Jewish mystical text; in addition to giving him clues to the mystery, it clarifies his visions of a horrible heavenly graveyard. Paradise isn't.

It's a charming conceit to make a religious film in which God's cohorts come across as the real villains, whereas Lucifer, though decidedly kinky (he threatens to fill one character's mouth with her mother's feces) has a tragic quality straight out of Milton, with a sense of eternal loss and a need to connect with humans to assuage his loneliness. The film offers a cynical reimagining of monotheism, yet writer/director Gregory Widen has the good sense to camp it up even more than Kevin Smith camps up Dogma, and the brilliant key casting choices -- actors who take their roles seriously, who feel for these over-the-top archetypal characters -- create a balance of humor and pathos that's affecting despite the holes in the script.

This is Walken's film, though the divine Mr. M nearly steals it from him at the end. Minion-sidekicks Adam Goldberg and Amanda Plummer are also hilarious as they feebly struggle to get away from their master, which they can only do by successfully killing themselves. Eric Stoltz doesn't have nearly enough to do as Simon -- we get no inkling of his motivations other than the obvious desire to do the work of the Boss, which in the context of this film seems both uninspired and unworthy. Elias Koteas gives a steady if unexciting performance as Detective Daggett, and Virginia Madsen tries to breathe some life into poor Catherine, who seems to be shaping up to become a formulaic love interest for the ex-priest until the Devil shows Doubting Thomas that he knows what really makes him scream in the dark.

No one will ever mistake The Prophecy for a great movie, yet it's intriguing, funny, surprisingly classy and damn sexy. It's exactly what I was hoping for when I prayed to an undesignated higher power for my Saturday night entertainment. Unfortunately, I now suspect that I know who must have answered my plea. I'm going to assume he looks like Viggo.

 

[Michelle Erica Green]