David Von Ancken | 107 mins | TV | 15 / R
Seraphim Falls sees Liam Neeson and a crew of hired hands chase Pierce Brosnan across every Old West landscape imaginable — from snow-topped mountains to bone-dry dustbowl — but why?
In practice, it makes for an unusual story. It’s centred neatly around Neeson chasing Brosnan, but the encounters they have along the way are increasingly bizarre. It’s readily apparent that there’s some Meaning and Subtext here, one that’s somehow related to religion (note the title; the missionaries; the destroyed Bible; the journey from somewhere high and calm, down through peoples of slipping moral standards, to the heat-hazy finale), but I’m not sure if one has to process this to appreciate the film — it’s a still a chase movie (of sorts) after all.
Indeed, one may not even notice all the allegories until Angelica Houston turns up, like some kind of inexplicable but convenient phantom, shortly before the final showdown. Who is she? What are her motives? What does it matter? (Her name’s a pun/clue, but I’ll leave that for you to notice/read on IMDb’s forum. Suffice to say, it fits with the other themes.)
Most characters are painted in quick sketches, and as soon as you get an inkling for who they are they’re dead or gone. The only exceptions are (of course) Neeson and Brosnan, who remain ambiguous for much of the film. The truth behind their chase is only revealed near the end, once most everyone else has fallen by the wayside. As the only constants, the various situations and their reactions allow the men to be slowly revealed. It’s not really a character piece, but they’re at least more complicated than your usual Good Guy vs Bad Guy setup — the story has you flip back and forth about which you think is which several times.
Subtly beautiful cinematography complements everything. Without being showy or overtly stylish, DP John Toll gets the most out of the film’s diametrically opposed locations: the lush, snow-drenched mountains of the first half, and the dry, barren dustbowls of the second, not to mention the burning autumnal tones of briefly-seen Seraphim Falls itself. Having caught this in SD, I look forward to watching it again on Blu-ray.
Though at times ponderously slow, the fact that Seraphim Falls contains an easily-understood driving plot alongside suggestions of a Deeper Meaning means it’s both accessible and relatively satisfying, even if its allegories pass you by. Conversely, the eventual dependence on these themes rather than a clear-cut finale may leave anyone who hoped for a straight chase/revenge story a bit miffed.
Seraphim Falls is on BBC Two tonight, Saturday 9th August 2014, at 11pm.