Thursday, August 13, 2020

Rail Shooter

Films: The Prophecy
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

There’s a part of me that wonders why, when a movie is about to get religiously freaky, we’re always going to be dealing with the Catholic Church. It’s as if someone somewhere decided that Lutherans and Baptists don’t get possessed or have to deal with demonic forces. I’m guessing that a great deal of this comes from The Exorcist, a film that is still exerting a great deal of religious and spiritual influence over demon-infested movies. It’s something that comes up over and over again, though—if you need to get rid of a demon, you have to go Catholic. If you’re going to get possessed, you’re probably Catholic, too.* That’s very much the case with The Prophecy.

Boiled down to its base essence, The Prophecy is the story of an almost-priest turned cop named Thomas Dagget (Elias Koteas). On the verge of taking his vows as a priest, Thomas is overwhelmed by a vision of the fabled war between angels—the one that is far more a part of Milton than scripture. Unable to continue, Dagget becomes a cop. He encounters a case one day that seems to not just touch on the supernatural, but to be fully enveloped in it. A body is discovered that is hermaphroditic, has no eyes, no signs of bone growth, and blood chemistry similar to that of a fetus. Of course, this is actually an angel, in this case put down by another angel named Simon (Eric Stoltz). This body also possesses an ancient hand-written Bible that includes an unknown chapter of Revelation that speaks of a second war in heaven.

So let’s get through this as quickly as possible to have it make sense. While a third of the angels were cast out of Heaven for opposing JHWH, a second war is posited, led by Gabriel (played to great effect by Christopher Walken), because of the offense of being placed on a lower pedestal than humans. Because of this second war, the gates of Heaven are closed, and no human has been able to enter Heaven for millennia—they’re more or less in a holding pattern while the war is being fought.

Now, the war may be coming to an end. The key to the war is a prophesied “dark soul.” Whomsoever ends up possessing that soul will achieve victory. If Gabriel manages to win, he will more or less turn Heaven in to a second Hell. The soul in question has been stolen by Simon mentioned above, and stored in the body of a young native girl named Mary (Moriah Shining Dove Snyder). So it’s now a rush to find Mary. Dagget heads to the reservation, where he and Mary’s teacher Katherine (Virginia Madsen) protect the young girl from Gabriel and his two servants, Jerry (Adam Goldberg) and Rachael (Amanda Plummer). Stepping into the mix at the end is Lucifer himself (Viggo Mortensen), who is of the opinion that a second Hell is one too many.

In this respect, The Prophecy is slightly different from the typical demonic possession movie, because at least part of what is done to help Mary comes from native beliefs and rituals. As you might expect of a movie of this era, though, the native rituals and beliefs have been more or less fetishized. There’s a lot of seeing something that is clearly supposed to have mystical significance, sort of a “this is a white people version of native culture.” I don’t remember if there are actual eagle screams at these moments, but my mind seems to think there were.

Look, The Prophecy isn’t a terrible movie, but it’s also not a very good one. It commits one of the cardinal sins (pun intended) of filmmaking: it’s ridiculously predictable. There’s not a moment here that isn’t completely telegraphed minutes in advance. Even if things weren’t so obviously telegraphed, it would still be true. The Prophecy isn’t smart enough to not break out of the conventions of its plot.

In the video game world, there is a term for games in which the player has essentially no control over the movement: rail shooter. In a rail shooter, the camera moves in a particular, predetermined way while the player generally shoots at various targets along the way. Games like Rebel Assault are a good example. The Prophecy is a rail shooter in the movie sense. Its plot isn’t on rails, but in a trench, and it can’t see over the walls of it. It’s going to get to the ending it needs to with all of the designated twists and turns along the way, and because of this, there’s not a surprise or a shock or even a sudden laugh to be had.

In fact, the best parts of this movie are the twin castings of Christopher Walken and Viggo Mortensen. Walken is great because he is normally ten degrees off of being human, and that’s perfect for a sort-of human character who refers to people as talking monkeys. Mortensen, considering that Lucifer was the most beautiful of all of God’s angels, brings the perfect blend of physical beauty and sardonic malice to the screen. But honestly? That’s pretty much it.

*Yes, I know there are exceptions like The Last Exorcism. The general rule holds, though.

Why to watch The Prophecy: Viggo Mortensen as Lucifer is dandy casting.
Why not to watch: It doesn’t do enough with its premise.


  1. It's an OK film but it's only worth watching for Christopher Walken and Viggo Mortensen. How come no one has made a bad-ass thriller starring the two of them? That is $$$$$$$.

    1. This might be the closest we'll get, and it's far from bad-ass.

  2. I've seen clips of Mortensen as the devil on several occasions. Wondered what that was all about.

    1. Viggo is honestly one of the best-ever castings of Satan. Sadly, the best Satans are in movies that don't deserve them.