It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
“Fallen” is the kind of horror story I most enjoy, set in ordinary and realistic circumstances, with a villain who lives mostly in our minds. Movies like this play with our apprehensions, instead of slamming us with freaky special effects. By suggesting that the evil resides in the real world, they make everything scary; one of the movie's best moments is supplied by a pop machine.
Denzel Washington stars as John Hobbes, a detective who works with his partner, good old Jonesy (John Goodman), on murder cases. The film opens with a flashback (“I want to tell you about the time I almost died”), and then cuts to Death Row, where a vicious killer (Elias Koteas) faces the gas chamber. Hobbes is among the witnesses as the poison capsule drops, and the killer uses his dying breath to sing “Time Is on My Side.” And then, this is curious, there is a point-of-view shot from above the dead man's head, and we wonder whose point of view it could possibly be.
Having established the possibility of the supernatural, “Fallen” is at pains to center Hobbes firmly in a real world. The screenplay, by Oscar nominee Nicholas Kazan (“Reversal of Fortune”), shows us Hobbes at home (he lives with his brother and nephew) and at work (Jonsey is a good pal, but a lieutenant played by Donald Sutherland seems to know more than he says). The story develops along the lines of a police procedural, with the cops investigating some strange murders, including a corpse left in a bathtub while the killer apparently enjoyed a leisurely breakfast.
Hobbes notices an incredible coincidence: The dead man in the bathtub is the same man who walked past him last night, drawing his attention with his singular manner. Now that's strange. And strange, too, are other developments, including the verdict of a linguist that the gas chamber victim's words, on a videotape, were spoken in ancient Aramaic, a language he had no way of knowing.