"The Order," Brian Helgeland's hackneyed entry into the Catholic-supernatural-thriller subgenre, is no "Exorcist." In fact, it's not even a "Lost Souls" or a "Bless the Child." Perhaps the fact that Fox released it without press screenings will enable it to snag some audiences the first day or two; but count on word of mouth to kill it quickly.

“The Order,” writer-director Brian Helgeland’s hackneyed entry into the Catholic-supernatural-thriller subgenre, is no “Exorcist.” In fact, it’s not even a “Lost Souls” or a “Bless the Child.” Not only does it display all of the plot and plausibility problems that usually haunt such affairs, but it commits the first cardinal sin of cinematic horror — it’s boring and doesn’t have a single scary moment. Perhaps the fact that Fox released it without press screenings will enable it to snag some audiences the first day or two; but count on word of mouth to kill it quickly.

Plot revolves about the old Christian concept of the Sin Eater (which has been dealt with more effectively elsewhere, including an old “Night Gallery” episode). The Sin Eater can offer absolution by swallowing the confessor’s sins and taking them upon himself. In the theology of Helgeland’s film, this also confers a form of immortality. The catch, of course, is that, if the Sin Eater ever wants to die, he must first find someone else to eat all the sins he’s stored over the years, or he’ll have a load to answer for in the afterlife.

Heath Ledger plays Alex, a priest belonging to an apparently dying order called either the Carolinians or the Carolingians, depending on which character is speaking. When his mentor, Father Dominic, dies, the Cardinal of New York (a horribly miscast Peter Weller) orders him to Rome to investigate. Alex takes with him the beautiful Mara (Shannyn Sossamon), who just escaped from a mental hospital. (The notion that a wanted psychotic could waltz through airport security without hassle provides the film’s only truly chilling moment.)

In Rome they team up with Father Thomas (Mark Addy), an Irish priest who has just arrived from Paris, to find The Other (Benno Furmann), aka William Eden, aka the Sin Eater.

While this might sound bad enough to be amusing, any such possibility is squelched by how deathly dull it all is. Weller looks like he wishes he were anywhere else, while Furmann is forced to utter dialogue that vacillates between the portentously cliched (“Knowledge is the enemy of faith”) and the stilted (“Yet I think there may be credence to what you say”). Sossamon is drop-dead gorgeous, but manages to mumble one of the film’s only funny lines. The usually reliable Ledger goes over the top in his big scene.

Occasionally Nicola Pecorini’s cinematography looks good, but much of the film is so dark it appears to have been shot during a power outage. The soundtrack has that slightly unnatural tone that suggests the film was shot MOS, with all the dialogue looped in post-production. Special effects are barely adequate. The rest of the tech work is adequate.

Film is being released in U.K. Sept. 12 under title “Sin Eater.”

The Order

Production

A Twentieth Century Fox release of a Baumgarten Merims production, in association with N1 European Film Produktions. Produced by Craig Baumgarten, Brian Helgeland. Executive producers, Michael Kuhn, Thomas M. Hammel. Co-producer, Giovanni Lovatelli. Directed, written by Brian Helgeland.

Crew

Camera (Cinecitta color, Technovision), Nicola Pecorini; editor, Kevin Stitt; music, David Torn; production designer, Miljen Kreka Kljakovi; art directors, Branimir Babic, Domenico Sica; set decorators, Gianfranco Fumagalli; costume designer, Caroline Harris; sound (Dolby stereo), Bernard Bats; visual effects supervisor, Nathan McGuinness; special effects supervisor, Terence Glass; visual effects, Asylum; stunt coordinator, Franco Maria Salamon; first assistant director, Sergio Ercolessi; second unit director, Franco Maria Salamon; second unit camera, Fabio Zamarion; casting, Donna Isaacson. Reviewed at Mann's Criterion, Santa Monica, Sept. 5, 2003. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Alex - Heath Ledger Mara - Shannyn Sossamon Eden - Benno Furmann Thomas - Mark Addy Driscoll - Peter Weller Dominic - Francesco Carnelutti (English, Church Latin)
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