Directed By: Shane Abbess
Starring: Andy Whitfield, Dwaine Stevenson, Samantha Noble
Tag line: "Far From Grace"
Trivia: This movie was mostly funded out of the filmmakers' own pockets. Director Shane Abbess worked as a building laborer, a removalist, at a call center and as a dockyard truck driver simply to raise money for his film
A war is being waged for the souls in Purgatory, a realm between Heaven and Hell where those not yet ready to be judged must wait their turn. The “Arcs” (God’s archangels) are fighting to bring some light to this dreary place, to show people that hope is not dead, but it’s the “Fallen” (demons) who’ve seized control of this world, and they have no intention of giving it up. Led by Sammael (Dwaine Stevenson), the Fallen have defeated every Arc who has stood against them, even going so far as to make the Archangel Ametiel (Samantha Noble) surrender her wings. But the forces of good have one warrior left: the Archangel Gabriel (Andy Whitfield), who will do whatever it takes to complete his mission and destroy the Fallen once and for all.
There are a few weaknesses to be found in director Shane Abbess’s Gabriel, at least one of which, the special effects, is the result of the film’s low budget (reportedly somewhere in the neighborhood of $150,000). It’s not that the effects are bad, per se; just obvious, which, no matter how you slice it, is never a good thing. In addition, some of the action scenes are flat. Shortly after his arrival in Purgatory, Gabriel is attacked by Moloch (Goran D. Kleut), one of the fallen, and the battle between the two fails to generate any real excitement (Abbess keeps the camera away from the fracas, shooting it from a distance and rarely going in for a close-up). And while most sources categorize Gabriel as a horror film, there wasn’t a moment in the entire movie that scared me. Bottom line: it’s an action / fantasy, and those in the mood for a scream or two should look elsewhere.
Fortunately, Gabriel’s positives outweigh its negatives. While I wasn’t blown away by the showdown with Moloth, director Abbess more than makes up for it with some of the later confrontations. One in particular, set in a warehouse, has Gabriel facing off against Ahriman (Kevin Copeland), a Fallen as well as a drug pusher, and his army of guards. Before the fight begins, the lights go out (presumably it’s Gabriel who switches them off), and while most of the battle is fought in darkness, we get brief glimpses of what’s happening thanks to the automatic weapons fire, the flashes from which give the sequence a strobe-like effect. This melee was exciting enough, but the one-on-one skirmish between Gabriel and Ahriman trumps it, taking the scene to a whole new level with its energy and style. And whereas the budget certainly had a negative impact on the effects, the same can’t be said for the movie’s set pieces. By shooting the entire film in abandoned buildings and dimly-lit alleys, Abbess conjures up a world in which hope seems to have vanished, bringing some (including those fighting the war) to the brink of despair.
Yet the most impressive thing about Gabriel is how it presents its story of good versus evil. Though it exists between Heaven and Hell, this particular Purgatory is clearly ruled by darkness, putting the Arcs at a disadvantage the moment they arrive. Having known nothing but The Light since the dawn of time, the Arcs find it difficult to adjust to this world, a problem compounded by the fact they’re now also in mortal form, and thus susceptible to human weaknesses. One of the movie’s best scenes occurs early on, when Gabriel visits fellow Arc, Uriel (Harry Pavlidis), who has given up the fight completely. Now a drunk living in a secluded trailer park, Uriel warns Gabriel that life as a human isn’t going to be easy. In fact, it’ll be harder than anything he’s experienced before. “We fall prey to the things we never even knew”, the Arc Ametiel says to Gabriel, and it isn't long before he sees this for himself. The Arcs may be the Servants of God, but in Purgatory, they are out of their element, and their unpreparedness is costing them the war.
Like all good action films, Gabriel features a thrill or two, but it’s the inner conflict of its “divine” characters that I found most fascinating, and it’s because of this I’d happily recommend the movie to others.