If you were an all-powerful immortal, where would you choose to spend your days? Why, high school of course! Supernatural romance Twilight insisted on this, and its less-pale, just-as-sparkly clone Fallen doesn’t break from the trend. Just to clarify, we aren’t talking about Denzel Washington’s Fallen, with its Rolling Stones-loving demon serial killer. This Fallen is based on Lauren Kate’s best-selling young adult novel, and swaps out vampires for angels.
The fact that Fallen is based on a supernatural teen romance isn’t a problem. What is an issue is how it dishes out Every. Single. Genre. Cliché.
Seventeen-year-old heroine Luce (Addison Timlin) is intelligent, strong-willed, and fought over by two hotties at Sword & Cross reform school, where she’s sent after a deadly, but mysterious, fire. There’s badboy Cam (Harrison Gilbertson) who tempts Luce with motorcycle rides, black corsets and metal concerts. And then there’s brooding Daniel (Jeremy Irvine), who treats Luce coldly but always seems to be around to save her life – when he’s not sketching frantically on his drawing pad, or roaming the school grounds in his thigh-length black coat.
Spoilers! The boys are actually angels in this universe where spiritual beings aren’t androgynous asexuals, but instead look like H&M models. Oh, and despite a premise heavily couched in Christian lore, reincarnation is central to Fallen’s story. It turns out that Luce has been in a cursed centuries-long romance with a fallen angel who chose Love instead of God or Lucifer in the great heavenly battle. This inability to choose sides has led to a stalemate between Heaven and Hell, so of course our limp heroine is pivotal in this divine war. This said, when push comes to shove she just stands on the sidelines while her suitors fight over their right to protect her. Great messaging all around for young women.
Fallen apparently isn’t particularly faithful to its source material – which has disappointed some fans. To this casual observer it comes across as Twilight meets Harry Potter, with a hefty dollop of The Vampire Diaries. The overall impression is that it’s the pilot for a new CW series. Fallen is 88 minutes long, but weirdly (or is that mercifully?) feels about half of that. This is probably because nothing of any real dramatic significance happens, or is resolved, by the movie’s close. The project exists primarily as a set-up for future sequels, which will likely enrage a good many viewers sick of being presumptively strung along by filmmakers.
The thing is, technically there’s nothing really wrong with Fallen. Although essentially an indie production that has yet to even reach US cinemas, it isn’t unwatchable. Scott (Shine, Snow Falling on Cedars) Hicks is in the director’s chair, and he has a strong grasp of moody visuals. The Eastern European sets are lush and interesting, and contribute to this effect.
Meanwhile, in terms of acting, leads Timlin and Irvine strive to present themselves as star-crossed lovers of Bronte or Austen weight, but they’re far too light as performers. Mostly their over-earnestness comes across as cringe-inducing. Joely Richardson is the lone familiar adult face in the cast, although in terms of the supporting players its Daisy Head and Lola Kirke who stand out as Luce’s allies. Their characters are vastly different (rebel and nerd), but they both bring some much-needed warmth and humour to the screen.
So it’s not like there’s zero talent involved in Fallen. From a production standpoint it doesn’t feel amateurish. It’s just that it is so painfully derivative that you can probably watch it with a clipboard and a checklist in hand. Whether you are familiar with the franchise or not, that is always disappointing as a movie-watching experience. Tepid.