MGM // 2002 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // January 28th, 2005
Evil is eternal.
Angel of Death is a boring, pedestrian thriller from director Pepe Danquart. Never heard of him? I'm not surprised.
Following the murder of her husband, detective Maria Delgado (Mira Sorvino, Mimic) transfers from Madrid to Seville. She soon finds herself assigned to a case involving a string of murders committed during Holy Week, Spain's renowned Easter celebration. The clues point to a member of the Brotherhood of Christ, a mysterious religious order whose leaders do not want to cooperate with the authorities, and the motives for the crimes can be traced back to the days of the Spanish Civil War. Maria's investigation will lead her into a world of buried family secrets, horrible acts of violence, and one man's bloody quest for revenge.
You still awake? You wouldn't be if you had to watch this film. Angel of Death is a series of scenes of exposition followed by scenes of botched suspense followed by more exposition. It's a clumsily shot and edited mess -- a thriller without thrills. The detectives don't much detecting, but instead rely on others to simply give them relevant information whenever the plot deems it necessary. Maria spends most of the film being attacked by a killer who somehow always manages to know where she'll be, and then being rescued by people who somehow always seem to know when she's in trouble. Maria's partners don't do much legwork, either. The younger of the two, Quemada (Olivier Martinez, Unfaithful), spends most of his time harassing transvestites and calling into question Maria's sexual orientation. Torillo (Féodor Atkine, Ronin), Quemada's older, wiser partner, doesn't do anything until about an hour in, and all he does then is get stabbed by the killer. Okay, so at one point he's shown on the phone gathering some useful information, but it's not clear who's on the other end of the call (nor is it clear why he would write this information down and then leave it sitting out for one of the villains to see). Most of the pertinent information regarding the case comes from Catalina Lucena (Alida Valli, Suspiria), who is tied to the killer's family by an act of rape. Catalina tells Maria her life story, but it takes forever and a day for her to get it out.
God forbid Spanish detectives are actually as dumb as the ones portrayed here. The first two victims are discovered in Catalina's home, but no one bothers to interview her at the crime scene. The medical examiner says the victims were killed four weeks before Catalina discovered them, but this doesn't strike anyone as strange. Wouldn't she have noticed the smell of the rotting corpses long before that? (Catalina doesn't even suspect anything is wrong until she notices all the flies in her home. Not one or two flies, mind you, but a swarm.) How could a month go by without her wondering why she hasn't seen her tenants? Doesn't her indifference to her gruesome discovery seem odd? Doesn't her later statement that she was actually expecting these murders to begin seem even odder? Is this the first crazy old lady the cops have ever run across? There are a few other things I don't understand, like what that painting in the church has to do with anything. Does it tie into the murders or not? I guess there's no marksmanship training in the Spanish police force, as Quemada is unable to even wing the killer when he fires at him from about three feet away. I also don't buy the killer's motive; he claims to be protecting the reputation of his late father, a man everyone in Seville knows was a thief, rapist, child molester, and murderer. The film also lacks a real ending; closing with a shot of an old lady shutting a door after having watched her son being gunned down isn't really much of a resolution.
The cast must be aware of the quality of the material, as many of them turn in bad performances. I was really surprised by Mira Sorvino, who gives the sleepiest acting turn I've seen in a long time; not only does she seem to be just going through the motions, she also looks like she's literally ready to doze off. She can't seem to get a grip on her accent, either, which is odd for a woman who's reportedly able to speak about fifteen different languages. (She can cry on cue like it's nobody's business, though, and still looks good in a skirt.) Olivier Martinez overacts, which only serves to make his character even more of a tool. Both Féodor Atkine and Alida Valli provide solid work; I'm not too familiar with Atkine, but I recognized Valli from some of her roles in Dario Argento's films, and her patented creepy old lady bit is on full display here.
The best thing about this disc is the transfer, and even it has problems. Colors are nicely saturated and black levels are good, but the backgrounds in a few shots are excessively grainy and noisy. The flashbacks, the color scheme of which wavers between sepia-toned and bleached-out, come off best. The audio doesn't fare as well. There's good channel separation across the front soundstage, but the dialogue is mostly unintelligible, which forced me to turn on the subtitles (not that I would have been missing much had I not). There's no surround action, although there are a few instances of booming bass activity. The only extras are the trailer for this film and previews for several other MGM titles.
C'mon, since when has a visit from the Angel of Death been a good thing? Slap some blood on your doorframe and wait for this thing to pass by.
Guilty! Somebody tell Mira to get some sleep.
Review content copyright © 2005 Mitchell Hattaway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R