The Prophecy


Rating 5

Written and directed by Gregory Widen

Starring Christopher Walken, Elias Koteas, Virginia Madsen, Eric Stoltz, Viggo Mottensen, Adam Goldberg, Amanda Plummer, Steve Hytner and Moriah Shing Dove Snyder

Thomas Daggett (Elias Koteas) trained to be a Catholic priest, but he was plagued by horrifying visions of Heaven plunged into an eternal war and lost his faith on the day of his ordination. He is now a detective with the LAPD. When he is called in to investigate a bizarre murder, the trail leads him to a small desert town in Arizona where the Archangel Gabriel (Christopher Walken) has come down to Earth in search of the soul of a recently deceased soldier who had been charged with horrific cannibalistic war crimes during the Korean War.


Released into American cinemas in September 1995, ‘The Prophecy’ is a horror film with a central theme drawing on various Judeo-Christian biblical teachings. Following the first celestial war, ending when Lucifer (played here by Viggo Mortensen) and his followers were cast out of Heaven, a second war erupted when God elevated man over all other creatures. Gabriel and Simon (played by Eric Stoltz) had stood side by side at the head of the army of angels that defeated Lucifer, but are now on opposing sides. Simon has come to Earth to stop Gabriel from getting the soul he seeks.

The Archangel Gabriel is sometimes referred to as the Angel of Death. The name Gabriel translates as “The Strength of God”.

I saw this film several times when it was first released, but it had been a long while, maybe as long as ten years, since I had last watched it, before recently buying a copy on DVD for the first time. It had been one of my favourite films and I approached it again with a small degree of trepidation, wondering if it would prove to be a anti-climax in retrospect. It probably isn’t quite as spectacularly good as I remembered, but I wasn’t disappointed. Is it deserving of a “5” rating? Possibly not, but it is a five-star film for me.

The premise really works very well. I like horror films that draw on religious imaginary and I think this is a particularly good example, taking the very inhuman nature of angels as they are described in biblical texts as a starting point and building a story around that. As Thomas says at one point in the film, “Did you ever notice how in the Bible, whenever God needed to punish someone, or make an example, or whenever God needed a killing, he sent an angel? Did you ever wonder what a creature like that must be like? A whole existence spent praising your God, but always with one wing dipped in blood. Would you ever really want to see an angel?”

There is one particularly effective moment in the film when Thomas asks Gabriel, “If you wanted to prove your side was right, Gabriel, so badly, why didn’t you just ask Him? Why didn’t you ask God?” Gabriel replies, almost wistfully, “Because He doesn’t talk to me anymore.”

Christopher Walken is not an actor often given to subtlety (with one or two exceptions, such as his Oscar-winning performance in ‘The Deer Hunter’), but he is one of the most compelling and memorable American film actors of his generation, if also one of the weirdest. He is in particularly impressive barnstorming scenery-chewing form here, but he is given a good run for his money by Viggo Mortensen, who gets to deliver lines of dialogue like, “I could lay you out and fill your mouth with your mother’s faeces,” when talking to Virginia Madsen’s small-town teacher, Katherine Henley. It’s always good to see Virginia Madsen, who like Mortensen is a past Academy Award nominee.

Eric Stoltz is an actor not shy of adding quirks to his performances and Adam Goldberg and Amanda Plummer, both playing characters on the cusp of death who are kept from dying by Gabriel to do his bidding, are well established oddball actors and scene stealers. With this level of over-the-top acting competition, the Greek-Canadian actor Elias Koteas does rather get trampled and disappears into the background, but that is perfect for the character he plays, the would-be priest who suffered a crisis of faith and now finds himself in the middle of this extraordinary scenario.

Writer/director Gregory Widen is probably best known as one of the co-writers of the 1986 film ‘Highlander’. He also wrote the 1991 Ron Howard film ‘Backdraft’. Widen was employed as a fire-fighter for three years, using that experience as the basis for his screenplay.

‘The Prophecy’, which is also known as ‘God’s Army’, had a production budget estimated to have been in the region of $8 million. It grossed $16.1 million at the box office in America. Nineteen reviews are collected at Rotten Tomatoes, resulting in a 42% rotten rating. There have been four sequels to date, plus the crossover addition to the franchise ‘Hellraiser: Prophecy’.

The fifth season ‘X Files’ episode ‘All Souls’ draws on a vaguely similar theme.

Review posted 13 March 2009


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