The Prophecy (God’s Army)

The Devil's Work

by Donato Totaro Volume 1, Issue 9 / November 1997 3 minutes (718 words)

Every now and then a horror film comes out that reaffirms one’s tenuous faith in the Hollywood “major” Independent studios. The Prophecy is one such film. For a pleasant change we have a supernatural (or is it?) horror film that is extremely literate, intelligent and does not rely on special effects or gratuitous violence to carry a weak script. The film deals with the longest running civil war in history: that being waged since the beginning of time between warring factions of angels. Before mankind (or as Walken’s Gabriel says, “before the monkeys”) angels were God’s chosen sentients. After God created humanity out of His own likeness the angels became second string in God’s eye, provoking a war between the jealous throng and his faithful followers. As the war rages on, many souls are kept in limbo. The plot, accurately described by producer Joel Soisson as a “theological Terminator , has Gabriel (played to perfection by Christopher Walken) coming down to earth to procure the evil soul of a recently deceased army General (Arthur Hawthorne) to help commandeer his army (there is some wonderful staged black & white Korean war footage of Hawthorne’s cannibalistic rituals mixed in with genuine Auschwitz footage).

The film’s concept is played out intelligently with a script that has some powerfully suggestive interpretations of Christianity. Religion has long provided excellent fodder for horror movie material. In most cases simply because of the ease with which it affords the ability to deal with questions of good/evil, known/unknown, life/death, and reason/emotion. Perhaps because it functions as an easy moral container, religion is a middle-class subject that when used in a horror film context seems to attract a larger audience (witness The Exorcist 1973, The Omen 1976, Rosemary’s Baby 1968). Cronos is another religiously themed horror film. Though its approach is ultimately too low-key for its own good, it does offer an interesting twist on vampirism, with the Jesus character (Federico Luppi), as “a very sick Christian metaphor.” These recent religious horror films are not homogenous in their approach to horror and religion. Even The Prophecy (originally much better titled as God’s Army) treads into sacrilegious territory until its faith affirming conclusion. Cronos, directed by lapsed Catholic Guillermo del Toro, hints at Christianity but mixes vampirism with alchemy to give us a blood-thirsty Christ-figure Jesus, while in The Prophecy , the devil is given a Christ-like appearance and functions as one of the film’s unlikely heroes. The conclusion, however, reaffirms faith in “God’s Plan.”

Anyone expecting angels on par with those in Wings of Desire 1988 or It’s a Wonderful Life 1948 will be in for a shock. Christopher Walken as Gabriel, the leader of the anti-God faction, is an acting joy. The film is worth seeing if only to see and hear Walken, everyone’s choice for a demonic-angel, delivering cryptic lines to blank-faced humans. Gabriel looks like a celestial gunslinger: tall, with jet-black hair and clothes to match. The film, written and directed by Gregory Widen (his first film), is innovative in its representation of angels as God’s “hit men,” and in subverting the convention of a single hero-protagonist. As the film progresses heroes die and new ones appear. Our first identity figure is a failed priest turned cop Thomas (Elias Koteas), who loses his faith on his anointment day because of (ironically) “seeing too much of heaven.” (A veiled anti-empiricist message “less-seen-the-better” which ultimately shapes the films faith-affirming thematic.) We then meet the town’s local school marm-hero Virginia Madsen (playing off Gabriel’s western iconography). (Is it a coincidence that both Madsen and Walken have their hair dyed jet black?)

Producer’s Soisson’s experience with finding funding for the script is indicative of the schism between major studio and self-financed filmmaking. Soisson found the film hard to pitch because of its intellectual scope and, perhaps, the risky subject matter. After receiving only unhelpful criticism or qualifications from the major studios he approached, Soisson decided to finance it independently and came up with an 8 million dollar budget. To give you an idea of the mindset one encounters among the major studios, according to a cover story in Fangoria #136 one executive thought the script was great but didn’t see the need to have angels!

<i>The Prophecy (God’s Army)</i>

Donato Totaro has been the editor of the online film journal Offscreen since its inception in 1997. Totaro received his PhD in Film & Television from the University of Warwick (UK), is a part-time professor in Film Studies at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) and a longstanding member of AQCC (Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma).

Volume 1, Issue 9 / November 1997 Film Reviews   genre_horror   horror   independent cinema  

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