At the end of the century, Satan visits New York in search of a bride. It’s up to an ex-cop who now runs an elite security outfit to stop him. (IMDB synopsis)
Here it is! The first review of the month, and we begin with the subgenre of Action Horror. Schwarzenegger shall show us the way! Before I watched this, I didn’t know what to make of it. Was it going to be a serious, illuminating film on the darkness of man’s soul? Was that sort of thing within Arnie’s range? Only one way to find out!
Oh, and by the way: spoiler alert!
Well, straight away, I could tell this is a film that takes itself very seriously, as the opening credits come with a sombre orchestral score and plenty of religious imagery. The titular ‘end of days’ refers to the upcoming eve of the new Millennium, when Satan is prophesised to consummate his passion with a certain woman and beget his child, thus bringing about the end of the world. I’m not sure what the newborn spawn of Satan is supposed to bring to the table, but there you go, that’s our premise.
The woman in question is born sometime in 1979, strange birthmark and all, and is ironically enough named Christine. Later on, in the present day, Satan chooses the body of Gabriel Byrne and immediately molests a woman in the middle of a crowded restaurant before blowing it up, just to show how evil he is. His search for his predestined ‘wife’ begins.
In the next scene, Jericho, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is shown acting in the course of his profession as a security officer – blasting guns and abseiling from a helicopter with his leather coat flapping in the air, because this is an ACTION horror. Jericho is a classic action hero, who plays by his own rules, liberates evidence and has old scars that run deep. It is later revealed through rather clunky dialogue that he has lost his wife and daughter, leading him to lose his faith in God and take up drinking. He gets entangled in the plot of this film when the man he pursues in his first scene turns out to be a priest wishing to prevent the end of days by finding and killing Christine. Jericho chases this up, and soon it’s up to him (and whoever he helpfully points a gun at) to protect Christine and try to defeat Satan himself.
It’s easy to spot the many tropes and conventions of the action genre in End Of Days, but the horror is more of an afterthought. There are a few occasions when the CGI and special effects produce something unsettling – for example, one of Christine’s nightmare sequences – but in places, it actually hurts the film. I feel that showing Satan at the film’s climax as a clichéd horned, winged beast was not needed – it would’ve been better to leave him as an unseen presence. At first, I thought that was what they were going for, as the church collapsed and caught fire around Jericho and Christine; but then a poorly-rendered demon reared its ugly head, and my fear shrivelled and died.
The film does resort to some other horror devices. There are at least six jumpscares, some of which are well-executed, and some of which involve… a cat. I also get the distinct impression that the blasphemous imagery is meant to frighten or at least shock the audience, but I’m not sure it works when the film shows it in such abundance. But I did like the fact that the dawn of the millennium is used as a plot device, as it took something from the real fears of audiences at the time – the threat of the Y2K bug, the general concern over things to come, etc. Bear in mind this film was released in 1999.
As for the actors, Arnie is fairly good as the rugged guy with a gun, although his one-liners are nothing spectacular, e.g. telling Gabriel Byrne’s Satan to ‘go to hell’… too obvious. Byrne himself does his best to channel Al Pacino and hams his way through the performance. I liked the part where he coolly promises to return Arnie’s family in exchange for Christine’s whereabouts, but apart from that he’s not the most downplayed portrayal of Satan. He DOES grope a woman and blow up a restaurant in his first scene, don’t forget. Also, why does he settle for simply beating up his adversaries in most scenes? Couldn’t this Satan turn each of their heads into a writhing mass of snakes or something?
As for Christine, played by Robin Tunney of The Craft fame, her character is rather useless. The events of the film often appear to underwhelm her, to the point of her cracking wise about taking out restraining orders against Satan. She also fights off homicidal priests with a stiletto shoe. Um, girl power?
As action movies go, this one has a few interesting ideas and is entertaining to watch; however, it thinks it’s much more serious and thought-provoking than it really is. I don’t think ‘horror’ is the word that springs to mind here – it could be better described as a supernatural thriller. (Wikipedia lied to me.) Nothing about it really scared me, save for a few creepy moments. It’s a shame, because both Sam Raimi and Guillermo del Toro were originally set to direct it – oh, what might have been! End Of Days isn’t the worst thing in the world, and I’d probably watch it again if it was on, but the so-called ‘horror’ aspect was extremely lacking. I hope the next film I review delivers on its promise.
3 jam sandwiches (out of a possible 10).