WARNING: PIC INFESTED SPOILERISH POST.
I discovered this Australian cult movie a few days ago, all thanks to Cinemax Latin America, a channel that tends to redeem itself by periodically showing independent and foreign films that otherwise would never reach my side of the world.
Based on online reviews and comments, this film seems to be very polarizing. Those who hate it really hate it; those who love it really love it.
In this particular case, you can count me as a lover.
The story: Humanity blows!
In short: There’s a struggle for control of the souls in purgatory, and the baddies (The Fallen) are wining. After 6 failed attempts to bring back the light to this forsaken place by sending archangels to battle The Fallen (or “Arcs”, as they call themselves, forced to take human form as soon as they arrive in purgatory), Gabriel, the last archangel, arrives to finally put an end to the conflict.
Typically it is assumed that these types of characters are very black and white. In this case, the Arcs are a very dark shade of gray, and the Fallen are having a hell of a time.
The biggest asset of this story is that in making the Arcs take a human form, they are faced with human emotions, things they never felt before and have no knowledge of how to properly handle them, giving us a very conflicted bunch of characters: The alcoholic Arc, the one who gave up, the former Arc turned prostitute, the consumed by rage, etc.
In this place, the good become damaged goods.
And it fits the setting just right. After all, purgatory doesn’t seem like the type of place people would be prone to be cheerful.
They made it for THAT much?
One of the things I appreciate the most about my film education in Australia is that from the very first week of studying, we were trained to work with low budgets, a lesson that certainly helps to become very creative when faced with the many problems that are an innate aspect of filmmaking.
This film was made with a budget of under AU$200.000. That sum is ridiculously low for a genre film. It is, in fact, ridiculously low in general. And the final outcome looks much more expensive than that.
This little fact should not be a factor in determining whether people like the film or not, but it sure makes this film a tremendous achievement for Australian independent films and an example to other small film industries.
You don’t need a big budget. You just need to be a creative problem solver.
Where did you say you were from?
Slang and regional accents. They can be a problem for international markets. At least some people in those pesky film marketing departments seem to think so.
In many cases, an american accent seems to be the choice to make a film more “international” or “neutral”.
Instead, Shane Abbess, the director of Gabriel, decided to go for a neutralized Australian accent that ended up sounding like a strange foreign accent, but not like a foreign accent in particular.
Good choice, I say. Many have complained about this aspect of the film, finding it distracting.
I think it actually helped reinforce the fact that these characters are very, very foreign.
Gabriel clearly borrows or is inspired by other genre films. This little fact has never been denied by the director of the film.
There is the scene when Gabriel applies the all mighty holly healing mojo on Jade, the former Arc turned prostitute, to get the junk out of her system, similar to that one scene from The Crow (I know you know what I’m talking about… if you’ve seen The Crow).
And there’s also the shooting in the dark scene from the pic above that uses the same technique as that one scene from Equilibrium (yes, I love Equilibrium, and I’m not ashamed of it!).
But instead of feeling like a rip off, these references feel more like homage.
Comparisons are inevitable. And yet, Gabriel has enough elements to stand out on its own.
The characters and the acting
The cast was comprised of unknown actors and they all did very well indeed. Some stood out more than others. Here they are:
The Arc with the arc: Gabriel (played by Andy Whitfield)
This was the only character that evolved from beginning to end, and Andy Whitfield very effectively and convincingly portrayed his character’s journey.
From a determined, stubborn, idealistic, adolescent-like angel trapped in a human body…
…Gabriel’s journey is an emotional roller coaster ride that forces him to grow and face truths he refused to accept before.
What’s interesting about this character is that in understanding his jouney, we can better understand the fate of Gabriel’s mentor, Michael, the lost Archangel.
The face of awesomeness award # 1: Sammael, the final boss (played by Dwaine Stevenson)
The true complexity of this character can only be understood by the very end of the film. In my opinion, this is an example of flawless acting.
On a more superficial note, Dwaine Stevenson looks great as Sammael.
The face of awesomeness award # 2: Uriel, the drunken wise man (played by Harry Pavlidis)
Another example of great acting, this character had the best lines of the film. Every word that came out of his mouth was interesting, at times ironic, and full of emotion.
And his love for Absinthe… much more interesting than any other drink.
The face of awesomeness award # 3: Raphael, the voice of reason (played by Jack Campbell)
This was a very small part but Jack Campbell popped out of the screen. A very strong actor, I would love to see him as the lead on another film.
The narcissist pimp: Asmodeus (played by Michael Piccirilli)
It was a sexy performance! Very well portrayed. This character was a chauvinist ass kicker – and an ass kisser when it was convenient, vastly full of love for himself, so much so that:
Oh my, this seems an awful lot like he really enjoys fucking himself. Literally.
The honorable mention: Ithuriel (played by Matt Hylton Todd)
This character was all about guilt and fear. He stated it, he showed it. A very small part, but a job well done.
So, is it a perfect film?
Well, no. It is not. There are parts during the film where the dialogues are a bit weak. Jade, a very interesting character in essence, was relegated to being the love interest. And there were times when some actors briefly went from acting to overacting.
That being said, in my opinion, the good far outweighs the bad, and it is well worth the watch.
That’s all for now. Man, that was a long post…