Theological thrillers are a very difficult sub-genre for horror fans. When reduced to a rudimentary body-count film, explanations are distilled to very basic rules and icons; placing horrible murders at the screen's edge, and never forgetting the film's battle lies between basic good and basic evil.
“The Omen” and its two sequels (forget the TV film) is the best example of that formula, while “The Exorcist” really pushed the envelope as to how much theology is too much for audiences; under the reigns of director William Friedkin, the first film (‘the only version we need to see') kept a balance between pacing, thrills, and intelligent explorations of faith. When author/screenwriter William Peter Blatty took the directorial reigns himself for “Exorcist III,” his efforts to make theological arguments more pronounced resulted in reshoots, added gore, and a wildly uneven film.
Helgeland stumbled upon the “Sin Eater” by chance in his research, and felt this odd footnote in Christian history was ideal for the big screen. A compelling villain with vampire qualities, Benno Furmann's Sin Eater also has a human past, yet his experience in devouring the evils of men and women has enabled him to enact the perfect Machiavellian scenario for eternal freedom – as long as things go his way.
Helgeland's commentary track is part production breakdown, and part tour of Rome and Naples. The overall tone is very light, and he points out the many crew and cast parallels between “The Order” and “A Knight's Tale.” Re-teaming Ledger and Sossamon after the latter film is rather novel, though Sossamon pulls off a more sensitive performance alongside Ledger's rather stoic hero. There's some minor details on the project's genesis and the script's development, but given the film's flaws within an already challenging sub-genre, some self-examination of the script's bumpy areas would have shown why the theological thriller remains so tough to perfect.
Also included in the DVD are a collection of deleted scenes with optional director commentary, and their removal shows the usual level of redundancy directors face when a narrative needs to be whittled down to its most fluid, engaging self. A nightmare sequence also shows that not all shock ideas make sense in the end, and can evoke the opposite effects from viewers.
A dailies gallery assembles shots for a pivotal scene near the finale, and demonstrates the sincerity actors have to maintain when the actions aren't too different from a hokey voodoo sequence.
20th Century Fox's transfer is superb – Helgeland's Rome and Naples locations are truly gorgeous, really boosting the production values of this international co-production – and the CGI effects are largely fluid. As Helgeland discusses their integration in some less extravagant shots, the recreation of intimate locales within major tourist areas is very impressive. David Torn's score also adds a suitable undercurrent of menace, and the Dolby 5.1 mix maintains a decent balance of sound design, enhancing the exceedingly haunting cinematography.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan