Matty takes a quick look at the ace first film in a DTV institution.
Although it shares a fair amount of thematic overlap with his earlier scripted cult hit, the Russell Mulcahy-helmed Highlander (1986), Gregory Widen’s The Prophecy — Widen’s first and, to date, only feature as director — is a much more delicate and poised affair. It’s buoyed by a thoughtful, irresistible melancholy; the film’s flutters of action and horror are exclamation marks on what’s really an existential study of man and God’s place among Generation X’s latchkey kids.
Fittingly, the influence of one of Gen X’s biggest filmmakers looms large over its ultra-hip proceedings, with Widen’s occasionally overcooked passages of portent-heavy dialogue alleviated by a Tarantino-esque sense of knowing and rhythm. An easy comparison, yes, but it’s inescapable: after all, large chunks of said theological patter are delivered by Pulp Fiction (1994) alumni Eric Stoltz, Amanda Plummer and Christopher Walken, who had all finished working on QT’s smash right before signing up to Widen’s oddball chiller. However, beyond its connection to arguably the most iconic film of the ‘90s, what makes The Prophecy so lastingly cool is it’s dark rock and roll edge. Stylistically, The Prophecy is powered by the same alternative, outsider vibe as Near Dark (1986) and The Crow (1994). In short, how can any goth-y fright fan resist a movie that finds a bunch of bad-ass, trench coat-and-leather-wearing angels flouncing across the screen? It’s tonic. Pure tonic.
Obviously, the ever charismatic Walken takes centre stage as the archangel Gabriel. Angry that the big guy upstairs now favours humans over his divine messengers, the evil Gabriel plans to use the corrupt soul of a recently deceased Korean War veteran — a deranged but brilliant tactician — to end a bloodthirsty civil war that’s been raging in Heaven. Elias Koteas and Virginia Madsen provide sturdy support as the priest-turned-detective and school teacher out to stop him, and a pre-Lord of the Rings Viggo Mortensen appears in the film’s final third as a deeply unsettling iteration of Lucifer.
Fusing elements of fantasy, noir, and road movie to moments of spine-scraping fear, Widen ratchets up the terror with scalpel sharp precision. A creepy, predatory dream sequence, and Koteas’ apocalyptic vision of angelic slaughter in particular make for potent nightmare fuel. The Prophecy is a technically stunning experience too, with Richard Clabaugh and Bruce Douglas Jones’ rich photography, and David C. Williams’ lush score the prominent highlights.
Despite its muted critical reception at the time of release, The Prophecy‘s steady domestic gross at the US box office and solid rental success around the world ensured that a sequel or two would be inevitable. All backed by Miramax’s genre arm, Dimension, four straight-to-video chapters of variable quality followed over the next decade, Widen’s offbeat sleeper initiating a franchise that’d become as flagship for the company as their Hellraiser (1987), Halloween (1978), and Children of the Corn (1984) instalments. The mighty Walken, alas, bowed out after 2000’s duff part 3, The Ascent.
Also known as ‘God’s Army’.
USA ● 1995 ● Horror ● 94mins
Christopher Walken, Elias Koteas, Virginia Madsen, Eric Stoltz ● Wri./Dir. Gregory Widen
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