A Revenge Tale That Mostly Fails
Despite the title, there are no fallen angels in this latest film by David Von Ancken. In fact, there’s no real sense of good or evil or any moral foundation, which is one of the reasons the movie didn’t work for me. Seraphim Falls is merely the name of a town where a Civil War massacre took place, taking the lives of one man’s family members and causing him to seek vengeance on the man who commanded the attack.
The pacing of the film is, to be frank, its greatest flaw. A chase fueled by vengeance should include some tension, some apprehension, but this chase evokes an overwhelming sense of tedium. While Carver and his hired men pursue the lone Gideon, short flashbacks to the scene of the transgression are intended (I assume) to draw the audience toward one character or the other—to somehow cause us to align ourselves with either Gideon or Carver so that when the chase finally ends, we are invested in at least one of them. Unfortunately, the flashbacks don’t build anything but a longer movie—and the revelation of the Great Deed, while horrendous, has the emotional charge of a 9-Volt assault and battery.
Another aspect of the film that distracted me (because I couldn’t figure it out) was the ambiguity of everything. As I mentioned, there is little moral foundation, little moral commentary, little moral center on which to draw. Are we supposed to feel sorry for Carver, whose family was taken from him so violently? Or are we supposed to feel sorry for Gideon, racing alone through the woods, pursued by a hate-filled man seeking the ultimate revenge? It really isn’t clear whom Von Ancken wants his audiences to cheer for—which, for some, may be a draw. But for me, not knowing where to invest my mental energy was disorienting and distracting, since I ended up neither liking nor disliking either of the characters enough to want either of them to “win” or “lose.”
Which contributed to another reason I disliked the film—no one wins. The ending is so incredibly vague that there is no way to discern the motives of either Gideon or Carver. They each have the chance to finish the fight, but neither one does—but who knows why not? There doesn’t seem to be any mercy or forgiveness or reconciliation occurring, and at one point I half-expected them to holds hands and walk off into the sunset together. As written, the ending is completely baffling—so even if I had invested some mental energy in the pursuit of vengeance, I would have been left with an unfulfilled burning desire to see someone throttled. And perhaps that’s the point.
The only thing I can conclude about Seraphim Falls is that Von Ancken is making a greater statement of which I am thoroughly ignorant—a political statement about war and revenge, or a personal statement about the ambiguity of right and wrong in times of battle. I’m not sure. But that’s also the only way I can explain why two Irish actors—Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson—have the lead roles in a decidedly American (post-Civil War) setting. There must be a message here that I’ve missed.
I do not doubt that Seraphim Falls will appeal to some—chase movies centering on long-past evils always draw a certain crowd, and I’m sure this one will follow suit. But if you’re looking for an edge-of-your-seat nail-biter, I’d advise turning your attention elsewhere. Seraphim Falls simply lacks the intensity required for such a movie, and while the performances are decent enough, the tedium of the telling makes Seraphim Falls flat.
Seraphim Falls is rated R for “violence and brief language.” There are a few bloody scenes, as you’d expect from a Civil War-era vengeance story, but nothing over-the-top. R may be a bit strong, but it’s a good safety net for the battle scene.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jenn attended a promotional screening of Seraphim Falls.