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Fallen Angels: The Director's Cut (2005)
Director: Ian David Diaz

review by Paul Higson
SPOILER ALERT!
When given the opportunity to take another look-see at Ian David Diaz' Fallen Angels, albeit in the non-commericial director's cut, it wasn't something I was keen to jump to. It had proven itself somewhat forgettable, a simple low-demand stalker movie with an American setting but shot in the UK. In fact what I did recall of the film was a possible altered memory; the recollections that there were, woolly big ones, like the drabness of the murder spree and how little I cared for the film or the characters. One faulty recollection was that Fallen Angels was a confused shambles. It isn't, but that only returns order to the film and reinforces its ordinariness. I had to dig deep in the crates for a film that I was in no rush to return to.

Fallen Angels is particularly disappointing given the return involvement of so many from the Seventh Twelfth Collective's previous movie Dead Room return including Ian David Diaz (directing), Julian Boote (co-scripting and producing), Philip Lott (2nd unit directing alongside Boote), and Alan Dunlop (diligent director of photography). The zip, humour and imagination so pervasive in Dead Room are not in evidence in Fallen Angels. Fallen Angels has cleaner production values but that is not half as important as giving it some valuable content.

"This version is a cobbled together collection of digitally captured VHS copies of previous edits of the film," admits Boote, "from which we lifted segments our producer hadn't yet ruined in later cuts. We couldn't save everything for this cut that was eventually lost but it's a better cut than the official version released over here. Unsurprisingly then, the technical quality as a result is very poor. You'll also be interested to know this [is the] version we screened to the cast and crew."

The film opens with a traditionally lame paintball gun prank played on Nell 'Freaky' Fisher (Esme Eliot) by three classmates and a jock, British soil subbing for American. Esme returns to Holy Angels, a girl's school in Blackwood Falls, and seems to be rooming alone in the basement. She is attacked by the school professor Leighton (Jeff Fahay), who has been dismissed following allegations by Esme about his unwelcome behaviour towards her. A fire breaks out and there is enough explosive material to take out the State. Her three tormentors Natalie (Elly Fairman), Jade (Cassandra Bell) and Laurie (Emma Willis) having also got back after curfew are drawn to the ruckus of the assault in the company of the 'campus' warden Ed Rooney (Michael Ironside). Nell escapes, Rooney is wounded by a sword, and the group get a head start on the evacuation of the premises, raising the alarm as they go but too late for others, with the result that they are the only five survivors of the tragedy as flames flood the corridors.

Five years later in London and Natalie's acting career is not going too well. Her agent, Melanie Fleischer (Melissa Simonetti, unfortunately, the only actor returning from Dead Room), wants to capitalise on her client's past history with a documentary on the Holy Angels tragedy, bringing together the other girl survivors. Wanting to branch into film production Fleischer finances the film herself. The documentary film director Tom Craven (Kai Wiesinger), and producer Pete Bloom (Shawn Graham), zip across to Seattle and persuade the financially bereft Nell to join the project. The survivors and crew all descend on Holy Angels for what should be a quick shoot and, as is often the case in cheap horror films about the making of a movie, the filming is feasible with the smallest number of crew possible. The remainder of the complement are cameraman Mack (Tony Abby), assistant Sally (Emily Booth), and, for that additional angle, a rich kid parapsychologist Brett Murray (Dallas Campbell) to cover the reported ghost sightings that have hit the building since the tragedy.

Holy Angels doesn't look in too bad a shape since the exploding basement. This will probably be sold to us, if asked, as a result of the devastating fireball sweeping through corridors and dormitories. It is a very selective apocalypse which leaves a window seat hiding place without a scorch and a video camera and a bottle of the hard stuff in fine fettle for them to recover five years on. The building could have had a makeover, but it is not in use and there is no explanation for the sound condition it is in, and too often these little mysteries are left to the assumption of the viewer. The town-folk are peeved about the shoot so the crew have to sleepover at Holy Angels. Usefully, for the story, Rooney is now the local sheriff while the former jock, Brad (Max Brown) is now the security guard at Holy Angels.

It is probably useful to introduce the two versions of the film now. The official release version runs 97 minutes, while the director's cut is five minutes shorter. For the viewer there is, in truth, little difference between the two versions. Most of the extra running time is in additional seconds here and there, several minutes during the conflagration and a new shot to close. The film has been edited around but it is mostly a case of switcheroo with scenes exchanging place. The opening catastrophe runs 15 minutes in the official release; the truncated director's cut removing most of the shots of burning rooms, extras in corridors and windows. The official release gives the school more of a sense of occupation but the reasoning of the director's cut may have been an awareness that the prolonged inferno might raise questions about the condition of the building five years on. It does not stave off the question.

Professor Leighton's assault on Nell is longer and he speaks more during the sequence providing a clue as to who he might be and why he is upon her. The director's cut saves the entirety of the explanation for later in the film. He may only be asking her to lie for him and drop something but it is enough to hint at a reason for his behaviour and cause to think. The director's cut seems happier to leave the attack bare and, rather than adding mystery, is less involving for the viewer. The shot of the girls hiding the video-camera is an early switcheroo placed later in the official version.

At several points during the official release there are additional cuts to close-ups of Brett. The intention of these shots is likely to clumsily flag him up as the most likely suitor for Nell, the one to watch, but make the viewer suspicious of him instead, as it is not as if he is being in any way expressive in any of these shots. A number of scenes exchange place during the middle of the movie, the on-camera interview with Brett pushed back just as are the first two killings brought forward. The first two kills do not involve the main cast but the father of one of the fire's victims and a reporter, both of whom are lurking in the grounds.

In the official release with the additional minutes, aside of these two murders, this means that it is 53 minutes before one of the key players is killed. This might be appreciated in another film as the concentration might have been on the piling on of character affiliating us with the characters but Fallen Angels fails to reach further than basic clich�s on the personalities. The killer cuts through several male characters first which has a certain logic as they might be seen as physical challengers to the killer but the story does have one other unusual feature in that almost from the go, once their number are hit they are fully aware of it and so they are a significant group when attacked and defending themselves. Mack is a burly guy who feels the group can take out one lowly killer but this runs into the predictable disposal of Mack.

There is more than one killer though and both are using the same costume, a poncho, and the most visible of the killers also has a camera in his or her hood, with two small lights giving them the appearance of full-size Star Wars' Jawas. The appearance of the killer is bland and the kill sequences are weak, normally the flash of a blade and a yelp from the victim. The flashback to the earlier Leighton assault in the chapel adds a kiss in the official release which the director's cut is curiously shy of, possibly to prompt a suggestion of a greater sexual offence having taken place but the viewer is not interested enough to imagine any outcome. Throughout the director's cut, the image is presented in a letterboxing clipping off some of the image particularly at the foot of the screen.

The official release has a more pleasing presentation even at full-screen ratio. Outside details are returned, and the book that Rooney is reading at the beginning of the film is less difficult to determine as The Shining, while in the agent's office the quad poster behind her is made less of a dance to recognise and is seen to be for Killing Zone, an earlier and more satisfying film from the team. The sequence in which Pete is killed is one of the shots most clearly affected by this, virtually a close up in the director's cut and closer to a medium close up in the official.

During the finale when the killer is threatening to slit Natalie's throat there is a minor alteration as inter-cut images of Nell are reversed for the director's cut. The film chooses to end on a relatively positive note with an above the usual quota of survivors, but the official release cannot resist the predictable urge to end with an additional shot returning us to the chapel to find a pool of blood and no body where the dead killer should be. The director's cut also features different music. According to the end credits, identical on both versions, but accorded the official release (the credits do not include a year of production and location pointers), there is an entire tie-in soundtrack album's worth of songs, not that I noticed them. The director's cut appropriates music extracts from James Horner's score for Aliens ("we used as guide tracks to give a sense of mood we had wanted," reports Boote), and some terrible pop songs, bringing the film to a close, for example with Nick Kamen's Open The Door To My Heart.

In my estimation, the official release is the better of the two, bar that extra scene at the end. The fire at the school feels bigger in the official release as we witness more of it. There are structural details which could have been developed into a more intriguing premise. But the film fails in its most crucial details; those of character and of the stalk and kill neither of which never rise above the dullard and the dull.

Fallen Angels



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