Horsemen of the Apocalypse (2009)
By: Julian on February 12, 2010  | 
Icon (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DTS 5.1, English DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 87 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jonas ┼kerlund
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ziyi Zhang, Lou Taylor Pucci, Clifton Collins Jr.
Screenplay: Dave Callaham
Country: USA
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Horsemen of the Apocalypse is the sort of movie you whack on when you want to watch Se7en, but you can't be bothered watching Se7en again. Platinum Dunes' second (if talking in terms of release dates) original film is just as derivative as its usual output, though Horsemen of the Apocalypse cleverly stacks its assortment of influences to make it the freshest-feeling of the Dunes' present oeuvre. And while the Catholic guilt subtext does the film no favours, Dennis Quaid's solid performance does, and Swede Jonas Åkerlund's direction is pleasingly gritty.

Quaid plays Aiden Breslin, a downtrodden big-city detective grieving the death of his wife with his two sons, young'un Sean and broody teen Alex (Lou Taylor Pucci), whose valiant efforts in the absence of his workaholic father keep the family unit afloat. Breslin's unique specialty – forensic odontology – requires him to attend the scene of a particularly grisly crime: a silver platter filled with bloodied teeth set in the middle of a frozen-over lake, with the chilling words 'come and see' emblazoned on nearby trees. Killings continue, each connected by the 'come and see' motif, and Breslin finds himself inextricably drawn, particularly by the barbarity of each case: the victims are hung on hooks and are killed by a highly precise puncture wound to the lung.

Breslin discovers that the genesis of the phrase 'come and see' is a piece of scripture, Revelations 6, which tells the story of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In the New Testament, the four Horsemen – Pestilence, or Conquest (the white horse), War (the red horse), Famine (the black horse) and Death (the pale horse) – were said to be harbingers of doom and destruction sent by God to wreak havoc on an unholy world. Endless webpages philosophising on the Four Horsemen can be accessed, and Dave Callaham tackles it with as much finesse and intelligence as you would expect from the scribe of Doom. Here lies one of Horsemen of the Apocalypse's chief failings: not only does it make an apish attempt at some sort of theological comment, but the purpose of the comment is misconceived on a very basic level: the idea of committing murders via a barbaric interpretation of an equally barbaric religious text wasn't presented as a fundamentalist one. Instead, stunningly, Callaham uses it as some sort of life lesson: beware the Four Horsemen, if you lead an existence like try-hard single dad Breslin, whose only crime was foregoing family time during the grieving process. Disturbing as that is, I'm disinclined to think that screenwriter Callaham is a member of some sort of Christian zealot group that must be stopped. More simply, and a conclusion that will at least make me rest easier, is that he is a lazy writer. In spite of his work here, I still hold high hopes that his contributions to super-action movie The Expendables does not cripple it.

Another missed opportunity is how Horsemen of the Apocalypse just flirts with the cult of suspension, rather than explore its murky depths as deeply as possible. Doing so could have made it a genuinely edgy thriller, not just a commercialised gimmick – in some respects, this is reminiscent of some of the faults Joel Schumacher and Andrew Kevin Walker had with their film 8mm, shying away from some pretty obscene subject matter to present a more palatable piece of product. A shame, if not an altogether incomprehensible decision; the producers probably wanted his film to get some sort of release in mainstream US theatres. However, interestingly, the director was quite taken by the idea and seemed to want to make the film as authentic as possible: after health and safety issues prevented him from realising his initial desire to use real S&M aficionados in the suspension scenes, he tossed up the idea of doing the grim deed on himself.

But I digress – all of this makes it sound as if Horsemen (as it is known in the States) is a bad movie. It's not at all, but for its shambolic attempt at religio-horror and a frustratingly abrupt twist ending that my girlfriend picked within 20 minutes of the opening credits (faults that I, unfairly or not, wholly place on the shoulders of an inept screenwriter). This is Jonas Åkerlund's second film, after the druggie pic Spun, and he does a much better job than what some online critics may have you believe. And although those same critics have lambasted Åkerlund's attempt at creating the sort of grimy atmosphere that distinguished city crime movies like Se7en, I think he does a pretty good job and directs his actors very successfully in some pretty damn chilling scenes – the exchanges between Quaid and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Ziyi Zhang are particularly effective. But there's nothing here that's different to any other serial killer movie you've ever seen – write Horsemen of the Apocalypse off as an adequate time-waster, but nothing more.

The picture is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen. As you would expect, it's clear and crisp. The film itself was shot by Eric Broms, who worked with the director on Spin. Broms does a pretty good job here, and his work really helps capture Åkerlund's intended atmosphere.
Two English tracks in Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1. Oscar-winning Polish muso Jan Kaczmarek (Finding Neverland) provides the score.
Extra Features
An audio commentary with Åkerlund and Broms, and deleted scenes.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Horsemen of the Apocalypse can be pigeonholed into a genre of high-concept, high-action psychological thrillers like Unbreakable and Cleaner (the cover slick comparison to Saw and Hellraiser is tenuous at best, and Horsemen possesses none of the intelligence of the former or black humour of the latter and is connected to both films only by inventive torture devices), effective at least for their duration but totally intellectually moribund. Horsemen is no better or no worse than the rest of them and is worth a watch, but it's characterised by the fact that it's totally unremarkable.

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