This was one of those world-is-ending things that was supposed to come out in 1999, when such a topic seemed somewhat interesting, but kept getting bumped because of similar movies End of Days and Stigmata. I'll bet you never thought you'd see in print that a movie with Winona Ryder and directed by an acclaimed cinematographer is actually WORSE than Schwarzenegger's End of Days, but here it is, because this movie is kaka.
We open with slo-mo shots of water droplets as numbers turn into letters that form the names of the cast and title. Lame. Generic. Then Winona, here just before her shoplifting scandal, shows up glowering alongside John Hurt and Elias Koteas as they go into a mental patient's room to perform an exorcism. It's not five minutes in, but already we have noticed all sort of ostentatious directorial tricks, like way-overexposed sepia-toned rooms [get used to this one], flashes on cuts, sped-up motion, and slow motion accompanied by distorted noises. An uncredited Alfre Woodard [good move, Alfre] lets them into the room of this rather hot possessed guy [I'm always picking the possessed ones!] who is scribbling numbers. We cut away for some flashback that shows us that Winona was once possessed herself, and Hurt cured her of it. When we return, there are horrible noises coming from the room, and Woodard opens the door. Hurt is all mentally wiped, and Winona is fine, and grabs all the patient's papers and such before leaving. Hey Winona, that is in fact stealing. That night she's doing all sorts of code-breaking as she chain smokes [in this movie, smoking is a lingering sign of Satan's influence], and comes up with the name Peter Kelson. Then, whaddya know, Peter Kelson is on TV! He's written a book about this serial killer, and says he doesn't believe in Evil with a capitol 'E.' He only believes in small-letter evil.
So she goes over to his fabulous apartment with giant arched windows. This is all in Manhattan, by the way. She barges in, ignoring his questions, and offers for him to meet the possessed guy, then asks him if he has a girlfriend. This is 30 minutes in—yes, the movie has wasted that much time and absolutely nothing has happened. So for no discernable reason he picks her up at the library for the drive out to Brooklyn in his SUV—although she just said to meet him at the library, and didn't mention anything about driving anywhere. Sometime out at the mental ward Winona is hanging in the huge bathroom when she hears a noise, then shouts "Is someone there?" although hello, it IS a public restroom. Then there is all sorts of completely pointless and unmotivated CGI hallucination that ends up 1) not being scary or freaky, and 2) serving absolutely no purpose to the story. I would be willing to bet $10 that this whole part was added later once the studio realized that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING happens in this movie. And what happens when Peter meets the possessed guy? He opens his eyes for one second—OH MY GOD!
SPOILERS > > >
Blah, blah, it goes on, still nothing happening, until Koteas, who is on the antichrist hit squad, decides to cap Peter one in the head in the middle of a big party. He hesitates at the wrong moment and, well, those security guards sure are jumpy! I mean, shouldn't you at least try to get the gun away from the already-caught assailant before you just up and snap his neck? Jeez, some people are such hard-asses! Then Peter wants to know what the fuck is going on, and Winona drops the bomb: You're first in line to be the new antichrist on the block. Obviously he thinks she's fucking loony and just goes home.
As we pass the hour mark, things continue slow and deadly. This is one of those movies where knowing that the whole thing only lasts 90 minutes is one of the only ways you'll get through. Anyway, Peter gets home to find that some psychic has dropped by uninvited. He tells Peter that XES are Greek numbers, and they represent our *69! Actually, it's 666. BO-ring! Then Peter is all freaking and goes to some church, where he appeals to a crucifix to save him, but the darn thing breaks and swings so that Christ is hanging upside-down! Dammit, you just can't find solid craftsmanship anywhere. More Peter freaking in highly art-directed rain, then he finds Maya in some random playground, and you're like—HOW? Did he tag her with some sort of homing device or something?
The decide to go out to someone's house, I think it's Peter's uncle [or IS it???], and Maya says "It's HOT in here," and I'm like "Well of course, the place is on fire. Don't you see all the "atmospheric" smoke hanging in the air?" There they are attacked by the hot possessed guy, who eventually breaks apart and kind of melts. This is obviously all happening just to have SOMETHING happen, as none of it really adds up to much. Then they go back to Peter's place and he finds that his fiancée has the keys to the pentagram below his bed, and she whips out a gun to kill Maya, but ends up dead herself! They just leave the corpse there and get about their business, because Peter's going to become the antichrist at 4:55 pm the next day—his birthday!
The next day they go visit John Hurt, who's awake and all better! He says the whole antichrist thing was just a silly myth, just so much poo-poo. But Maya knows better, and gives him a hot brand with her religious symbol, revealing him to be an emissary of Satan! Man, who ISN'T possessed in this movie? Blah, blah, they park in a tunnel at 4:53, and at 4:55, the digital clock in the car turns to 666. Maya turns and unloads one in Peter's head, and THAT is the end. THAT IS IT. She gets out of the car, and the credits roll.
< < < SPOILERS
Okay, I had just watched SPEED 2 the night before, and THIS was worse—by a LONG shot. Among the many things wrong with it is that there is just no action inherent to the plot. So Peter's going to become the antichrist—well, what are they supposed to DO about that? Stand around and wait for it to happen, I guess. Personally, if I found out I was going to be the antichrist, I'd be like "Fuck YEAH! I always KNEW I'd amount to something one day!" I'll bet the antichrist has a LOT of fun and gets ALL the hot babes. So the big event that's driving the movie is a big "so what?" and what's more—if they know Peter's going to become the antichrist and there's nothing they can do about it but wait for it to happen and then cap him one—wouldn't it be more humane NOT to tell him? I mean, what is to be gained by ruining his final days on Earth? Another question this movie brings up is—does New York have NO police force? They're running around shooting people right and left by the end and—nothing? This brings NO response? None of which is to mention the MASSIVE anticlimax of the ending. I tell you, if I had paid good time and money to see this in the theater, I would have been PISSED. 85 minutes of nothing happening building up to the story suddenly ending in THE most boring way possible?
So this is the directorial debut of Janusz Kaminski, Academy Award-winning cinematographer of almost all of Spielberg's work, and other acclaimed things. The only point of interest this movie offers is a practical example of the difference between making a movie LOOK good, and making a decent MOVIE. Kaminski pulls out every trick in the book—multiple film stocks, sped-up motion, slowed-down motion, overexposure, skip-fame, etc. [and etc and etc]—but he has NO story to tell, and all his showy tricks just can't make up for that. He also shows no restraint, and no sense that he knows how to USE these tricks to bring out the story, rather than just goose it up. WHY he chose THIS script [maybe he can't read English?] over anything else—ditto Ryder and Chaplin—is anyone's guess.
The trailer is on the disc and is worth watching AFTER the movie [if you must watch the movie at all, which I strongly advise against] as you will see how they take random snippets from the movie and arrange them, distort them and pair them with new sound to appear as though some really terrifying shit is going on. For example, they make it look as though Peter reacts in horror upon Maya whispering that he's scheduled to be upgraded to antichrist status, when nothing of the sort happened, and my favorite, right at the end, a shot of four people slowly walking [a nothing, throwaway shot in the film] is here presented at the climax of the trailer as though this is some totally menacing satanic procession. Amusing, but again, not worth watching the movie for.
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES.