As the postscript to a successful year for the Australian film industry – 2007 has seen the release of Clubland, Noise, The Home Song Stories and IF Best Feature Film award winner The Jammed – and hot on the heels of horror film Rogue comes Gabriel, a moody and visually impressive genre piece about the battle for the souls of those committed to purgatory. That its visuals are its outstanding feature is even more noteworthy when it is known to have been made as a low budget indie.
Andy Whitfield in his first feature film is Gabriel, last of seven Archangels sent to fight the Fallen for control of purgatory. Absolutely committed, he will never stop in achieving his mission, and is clearly willing to risk eternal death in taking human form. He has been preceded by friends like Uriel, Raphael and Amitiel (Samantha Noble), who have all failed in their task and gone into hiding or worse, and Michael, supposedly the most powerful of all Archangels, whose status is unknown. Being human will bring unexpected desires and traps, however, and Gabriel will risk everything to reach the final showdown with Sammael (Dwaine Stevenson), leader of the Fallen.
That the plot and script are somewhat difficult to swallow is not the only problem with Gabriel, but it is the most troubling. Over-explanation of character motivations and too much plot exposition will leave some viewers scratching their heads and others holding them. Supposedly unexpected twists are sadly not at all, flagged throughout for anyone paying even the remotest attention. The eventual resolution is predictable and its battle stilted… almost as much as some of the performances. Gabriel also commits the worst of sins for a fantasy/science fiction film – it fails to abide by its own internal logic.
In spite of all of these problems, however, Gabriel still has aspects that work. The idea that on their entry to purgatory the Archangels must fight not only the Fallen but the desires and flaws of their now human form is truly interesting – the moment they arrive they are at their strongest and most committed, and the achievement of their mission will be a race against time as they gradually falter under the weight of darkness. Although it isn’t used to full potential, the distractions these newfound parts of their character impose on the Archangels makes for subtle entertainment.
The cinematography, lighting and set design all contribute to the sense of grime and grunge that brings physical form to the world of shadow these beings of the light must enter and that will enter them in return. Reminiscent of Dark City in visual style, it features a more realistic violence than the bloodless action of The Matrix – Whitfield spends as much time wiping blood off his face as getting it splattered on.
That its flaws may detract from the experience is a shame, as the concept is intriguing and its technical execution assured. Problems with characterisation and script diminish its effectiveness, but for those who enjoy action films with supernatural overtones, Gabriel may be an unexpected pleasure.Rating: