Growing up Catholic, I saw a lot of pictures of angels battling demons. Giant, hawk-like wings were spread impressively as narrow swords were plunged into the hearts of evil, green creatures. Like most of the kids in my catechism classes, I took these images to be a depiction of actual events from the distant past and the coming future. I believed in the physical fight between good and evil and I thought it was rad as fuck...
...2020's Angels Fallen attempts to update these images into a film about the literal war between good and evil, heaven and hell, man and god. Directed by Ali Zamani (Maul Dogs) and written by Amanda Barton (2016's The Amityville Terror) the film follows a team of warriors who join together to travel the globe and kill some monsters. The movie plays like a mix of Constantine, Fast and Furious 6, and a little bit of The Lord of the Rings but with a much, much smaller budget. Angels Fallen is derivative and uninspired. As scenes play out, the viewer won't be able to stop themselves from saying, "Didn't this scene happen in one of the Underworld movies? Or, all the Underworld movies?" That being said, the film is not without its charms.
The movie succeeds in its first act by dropping us directly into a strange, modern world of demon hunters, magic elixirs, and poorly lit bars. Within the first minutes of the film, Gabriel (played by TV Actor and Nathan Fillion look alike Houston Rhines) is introduced to us by Oscar Nominee Eric Roberts (Runaway Train). Roberts tells a bar patron and tough guy that Gabriel is a demon killer who has personally slayed thousands of the evil creatures.
Gabriel interjects, saying that he is retired.
Suddenly, the toughs attack Gabriel. He kills them easily. The toughs explode into cheap effects after Gabe stabs them with a knife or, even when they are thrown to the ground. So… he isn't retired? Or, he is but he didn't know he was hanging out with demons? Gabriel doesn't seem surprised at all that he's killing demons. Did the demons know he was a semi-retired demon hunter?
The scene raises a lot of questions and, honestly, I was okay with that. It was refreshing to see a high concept, low-budget movie that respected viewers enough to not hold their hands or drown us in exposition. We get the sense that this is just the world this movie exists in. Demons are real, violence is common, and everybody seems to be trying to get along and make a buck.
Outside the poorly lit bar, we meet Gabriel's former associate, Michael (Michael Teh). Michael tells Gabriel that they haven't seen each other in ten years (I always begin conversations by telling people exactly how long it has been since we last spoke), he is here to bring Gabriel back to somewhere to do something, and that somebody named Eve would want Gabriel to help (if she weren't dead).
Now, knowing that this movie is about angels and demons, you would be forgiven for thinking that Gabriel is the ANGEL Gabriel and that Eve is Adam's first wife. I for one assumed all of this for about forty-five minutes. It turns out that Gabriel is just a guy. He's a former exorcist turned demon killer. The distinction isn't terribly important to the plot as angels and demons tend to look and act like normal humans anyways (they don't seem to have magic powers and are killed easily). But the confusion could have been avoided if Gabriel had been named almost anything else.
We learn that Michael has been tracking demon movement in Europe and believes that the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse are coming to destroy the world. Gabriel doesn't know if he can trust Michael and goes to his hypno-therapist for advice.
Michael Madsen (Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood and the Kill Bills) plays Gabriel's therapist. The Tarantino favorite is in the movie for one scene at the beginning and one scene at the end. In films of this budget, it is common to cast well known actors (Roberts and Madsen) to be in two short scenes so that the filmmakers can put their famous names and recognizable faces on the poster. After the initial scene with Gabriel and Madsen, I expected to not see the Reservoir Dogs actor again until the very end. Surprisingly, Madsen pops up throughout the movie as a sort of force ghost. Madsen appears in scenes just to tell Gabriel something not terribly important before fading away. It sounds weird. And it IS weird. But somehow the detail of Gabriel having visions of his therapist confuses as well as delights.
Gabriel is quickly convinced to get the team back together, travel to Europe, and kill some things. The first act is more or less rounded out by a scene where Gabriel and Michael track down their former team members to get the crew together. We get the classic "guy pretends to be mad at Gabriel then hugs him" trope. There's a wacky scientist (played by multiple Emmy nominee Nicolas Turturro). A former lover even shows up and reluctantly joins. The sequence of events reads like parody but is actually delightfully earnest. There are no winks to the camera or Rick and Morty-esque jokes about how silly and played all this is. The filmmakers are aware that they are using tropes but they also respect their own movie enough to commit to it. As a viewer, this works. I found myself rooting for this movie as we headed into the second act and was genuinely having a good time.
Without spoiling the rest of the movie, Gabriel learns things about his past that change his world-view. There are predictable double crosses, unpredictable nudity, and poorly choreographed fight scenes. As derivative and repetitive as the film is in its last act, it manages to surprise the audience.
For example, when the big bad is revealed and Gabriel faces off against him we aren't surprised by the fight or its participants, but we are surprised when we discover that Gabriel can throw a hadouken.
As a horror action film with a very low budget, Angels Fallen does not succeed at being visually stunning or creatively unique. However, it does entertain. The greatest sin a movie can commit is to be boring. This film is definitely not that. The odd decisions of the filmmakers can't be explained or anticipated. The actors play their rolls at an 11 from beginning to end. If you check this movie out, you'll find yourself laughing, cheering, or shaking your head in derision. But you will not be able to look away.
Angels Fallen drops onto DVD/VOD on January 14th from Uncork’D Entertainment.
By Mark Gonzales