An entertaining genre-blender that combines all the best elements of cop crime solvers with religious super-natural horror flicks.
The opening sequence could’ve been straight from “The Silence of the Lambs (1991).” Then the film slips into the “Jacob’s Ladder (1990)” territory of super-natural horror and wraps it up with an ending worthy of “Omen (1976)”.
Despite the freaky opening sequence, the films dives into the first act as a regular police precinct movie complete with the regular stock characters — the protagonist handsome Det. John Hobbes [Denzel Washington]; his avuncular sidekick Det. Jonesy [John Goodman]; and the cynical shin-kicker Det. Lou [James Gandolfini]; the hard-ass precinct boss Lt. Stanton [Donald Sutherland].
When the demented killer Edgar Reese (played to the nines by a scary Elias Koteas) is put to death in a gas chamber, Det. Hobbes thinks the worst is over, not realizing that his troubles are just beginning.
Here let’s put our hands together and applaud the great cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel since the way he came up with a visual representation of the evil spirit Azazel’s point of view is nothing short of genius. It is done so well that at one look we know which character the camera embodies in certain scenes. Without such an effective visual differentiation of the main antagonist’s point of view, this movie would have never worked this well, or perhaps not have worked at all.
Hobbes is a cop and rational man. He believes in what he can see and feel and measure. He believes in evidence, not hearsay and myths. But clue after clue tells him that this time, as strange bodies keeps popping up all over the unnamed town [although shot in Philly], he is up against something “different.”
The ancient Biblical evil spirit of Azazel is live and well and he changes bodies by just common physical touch. That’s why it is almost impossible to nail it down and destroy it. It is the most contagious sickness the world has ever seen. Screenwriter Nicholas Kazan also deserves our kudos for not only coming up with such a clever concept but also creating a pretty well written script.
(To conclude in part 2.)