Try as they might, Heath Ledger and friends just cannot turn out an all-around quality cinematic piece lately. Ledger is reunited with Brian Helgeland who directed/wrote/produced Ledger’s last widely seen movie, “A Knight’s Tale.” Ledger apparently likes to play it close to the vest-rounding out the cast is Shannyn Sossamon as Mara, Jocelyn to Ledger’s William in “A Knight’s Tale.” Unfortunately, cast and crew reunite only to create a humorless, gothic chiller that fails to chill its audience.
Ledger’s character, Alex, is a New York City Catholic priest undergoing a faith crisis. When Alex’s unorthodox mentor, Father Dominic, turns up dead the church rules his death as a suicide, thus refuting his right to a Catholic burial. Alex and Dominic belonged to a small order that followed mysterious beliefs. Alex, who is unsatisfied with the explanation he is given for his mentor’s death, travels to Rome to investigate. Upon his arrival, Alex finds mysterious religious symbols accompanied by bruises on the victim’s chest. It becomes clear that this was not a suicide.
Alex continues to search for evidence of the alleged murder. During his investigation, he meets Thomas, who is bitter with the Catholic Church for excommunicating his brother and denying him last rites. His brother’s experience has inspired Thomas to become the avenging angel for other church outcasts. He ingests the sins of ex-communicants and grants them absolution, letting unforgivable sins and great evil to go unpunished. This responsibility that Thomas has chosen to take on is becoming particularly burdening as he is weighed down with people’s horrible, untold sins. Thomas is looking to pass this duty on to someone else.
The basic ideas of this movie were interesting, but are not the stuff of a good thriller. Religious horror is a difficult field of cinema and has to be done very carefully. Themes like religion are quite risky and are presently becoming a worn-out crossroads between spirituality and horror.
The romance aspect of this semi-thriller was greatly lacking. Alex is joined by his ex-love Mara after she escapes from a mental ward. Despite his vow of celibacy, Alex spends a great deal of time with her, including his trip to Rome. Between Alex and Mara the chemistry is similar to the strained love scenes between Jocelyn and William in “A Knight’s Tale,” thereby letting down those who expected to see a passionate kiss or caress.
The all out horror fest of special effects is overdone as knives soar from walls and a graphic display of a hanging is presented. Besides the overkill of special effects, the quality and reality of them were horrible. The attempt to create what a lifetime of sins would look like coming out of a body was not believable and looked silly.
In any movie, whether the plot and special effects are believable, the actors have to be convincing. It was very hard to visualize Ledger as a crooked Catholic priest. His past roles as young, love-struck, and naïve fail to support him as a credible “bad guy.” In all, the movie had an unconvincing plot with unrealistic special effects that were poorly displayed and represented by unreliable actors.
Maybe some vintage rock music and jousting could have saved this movie.