What makes Fallen stand out in the growing subgenre of serial killer movies &emdash; cat-and-mouse thrillers which focus fetishistically on the killer's modus operandi &emdash; is that it tries to address the very nature of evil. A moody, stylish and somber film that quietly makes its way under your skin, Fallen re-examines the idea behind Paradise Lost: that Satan and his various minions are actually fallen angels.
Cast down from heaven, these fallen few get their kicks by inhabiting a body and making it do their sinister bidding (a discreet form of possession) in order to facilitate the apocalypse. At least that's the way it's explained to homicide detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington), a man who's no stranger to the idea that life can be nasty, brutish and short, but who has a hard time dealing with the metaphysical aspects of his latest case.
After Hobbes witnesses the execution of the notorious serial killer he has captured, Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas, such a strong presence in his brief scenes that he haunts the rest of the film), a whole new string of murders begins that eerily duplicates Reese's M.O.
Neither the support of his no-nonsense partner (John Goodman) nor the suspicious inquiries of his supervisor (Donald Sutherland) help Hobbes, who slowly realizes that he's involved in something beyond anything he's seen as a detective. His unlikely &emdash; and reluctant &emdash; ally is a theology professor (Embeth Davidtz) who's obsessed with angels.
Director Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear) and screenwriter Nicholas Kazan (Reversal of Fortune) have grounded the supernatural in the banal, injecting an eerie surrealism into the everyday good-guy-vs.-bad-guy world of Washington's decent, straightforward cop.
The primary device that Hoblit and Kazan employ to great effect is the idea that this inhabiting demon can be passed from body to body by a mere touch. This means the criminal could potentially be anyone: a stranger or a friend.
While not referring directly to the biblical fall from grace which left humans with the potential for sin, Fallen postulates that we're all susceptible to the touch of evil.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.