Okay, so “The Order” is, without a doubt, the most absurd movie
ever to cast Peter “Robocop” Weller as a foul-mouthed American
Cardinal next in line for Pope. Director Brian Helgeland pillaged his
entire “A Knight’s Tale” cast and dropped them in a world that
exists somewhere between “The Exorcist,” “A Rocky Horror Picture
Show,” and one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books, where
everyone speaks in exposition and character traits run from “weird”
to “really weird.” To my Catholic brethren, hide your hosts and
grab your rosaries, this ain’t gonna be pretty.
“The Order,” which was originally to be released with the
much cooler moniker “The Sin Eater,” begins with a fringe order of
Catholic priests, the Carolingians, who still believe that demons walk
the Earth and must be chased with crosses and screamed at. After the
death of their beloved (and ex-communicated) mentor, Fathers Alex and
Thomas (Heath Ledger and Mark Addy), at the behest of Cardinal Driscoll
(Peter “Buckaroo Banzai” Weller) head to Rome to nose around.
Tagging along is Mara (the very talented Shannyn Sossamon), a
formerly-possessed artist who was institutionalized for attempting to
kill Alex at her own exorcism (some people are just plain ungrateful!).
Once in Rome, Alex and Thomas discover that their mentor’s
“suicide” may in fact have been the work of a Sin Eater. Sin
Eater’s work outside the Catholic Church, eating bread and salt off of
the bodies of those who cannot receive absolution from a priest before
death. The Sin Eater internalizes the sins of the other, leaving their
souls sparkly clean for immediate access to the pearly gates. This, of
course, damns the Sin Eaters, which is apparently irrelevant because
they’re immortal. Alex yearns to understand the Sin Eaters in hopes
of stopping them, until it becomes apparent he may agree more with the
Sin Eater than his own beloved Church. Alex must decide whether his
faith can withstand his insatiable appetite for knowledge.
This is where things get sticky.
The Sin Eater may or may not have ties with the hierarchy of the
Catholic Church, and the only people talking to Alex and Thomas are S &
M freak pagans that hang out in an underground disco. By the time Alex
is asking instructions from a Ring Wraith reject sporting Coolio’s
cane from the “Fantastic Voyage” video, it’s not clear whether
Helgeland intends high camp or if he truly believes he is sticking it to
the Catholic establishment. When the Sin Eater shows up in the suave
embodiment of Benno Furmann and magically transports Alex back to
Michelangelo’s Rome, I think it’s safe to say deep religious
reflection has gone the way of Sin Eater’s soul.
Despite some loud bangs and the occasional legitimate jolt,
“The Order” is not frightening, and does not chill to the bone
like “The Exorcist.” I believe it’s intent is to poke fun at the
seriousness of that film and similar religious horror films. Any time
“The Order” brings up an interesting philosophical question (such
as a priest’s moral opposition to the teachings of the church), it
throws in a nonchalant demon-slaying quirky one-liner for good measure.
The acting is well above-par for the granite-boiled plot and
goofy dialogue. Ledger walks through most of the film like a hero from
a Lucio Fulci flick, nowhere near as bothered by Satan’s bidding as he
should be. He does it without smirking, but with a light touch that
keeps things moving. Sossamon has little to do, but she owns every
scene she’s in, by sheer beauty and intensity. Addy, who played
Ledger’s squire in “A Knight’s Tale,” is hilarious, pulling no
punches as he gnashes through over-ripe dialogue as an alcoholic priest
with little fear. His screen introduction is one of the year’s best,
chasing down a demon to its death, then casually answering his beeping
cell phone. It’s scenes like this lead one to believe (or at least
give the benefit of the doubt) to Helgeland’s light touch and full
understanding of the absurdity of all this religious malarkey.
“The Order” is a good time if you go in expecting little.
If you’re looking for a spooky movie with deep religious foundation,
check out “The Exorcist” or even the original “Hellraiser.” If
you’re interesting in exploring the meaning of doubt and the quest for
knowledge vs. faith, check out Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal.” If
you’re looking for a movie where sin takes the physical form of a
jellyfish and considers Peter “Sceamers” Weller as a viable
candidate to replace John Paul II, then brothers and sisters, you have
found salvation. Amen.