THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Order arrives in theaters after a tumultuous struggle. Originally scheduled for release in the cinematic dumping ground of January under the title “The Sin Eater,” the film was pulled after a horrific test screening in which the audience allegedly laughed hysterically at special effects that were supposed to be terrifying. It was widely reported that the studio pulled the movie off the release schedule so that another company could redo the effects. The title was supposedly changed to distance the picture from its bad buzz. Writer/director Brian Helgeland (who has reteamed his cast from A Knight’s Tale) recently denied this in a major entertainment magazine. Who to believe? Hard to say, but one thing’s for sure: the backstory is more interesting than the finished product.

Heath Ledger plays Alex, a priest assigned to locate and kill a “sin eater” who may be responsible for the death of his mentor, an elderly priest. For those not familiar with arcane Catholic legend (which, admittedly, is most of us), we turn now to the film’s press material. “The sin eating ritual…involved placing salt and bread on the deceased, reciting an incarnation, and then consuming the salt and bread – thereby the sins – into the Sin Eater’s soul.” This illicit practice was used to provide absolution to people who had been excommunicated. Naturally, the church disapproved because sin eating bypassed God in the penance department. (It also was an act of defiance against the teachings of the church.)

Father Alex finds the sin eater – a New Age-y goofball named Eden (Benno Furmann) – and becomes intrigued by his mission, especially after Eden offers him the chance to be his successor. It seems that Eden knows Alex’s sin: he’s in love with Mara (Shannyn Sossamon), an escaped mental patient who once tried to kill him. (Don’t ask – I don’t get it either.) By leaving the church and taking up the practice of sin eating, Alex could offer forgiveness to others, while still romancing his dream girl. This plan doesn’t sit too well with fellow priest Thomas (Mark Addy), or the shadowy Cardinal Driscoll (Peter Weller).

Time to be honest. While the whole “sin eater” concept is kind of fascinating, The Order is a jumbled mess that often defies coherence, logic, and sense. As I watched it, a number of questions floated through my head. Rather than explaining the movie’s faults, I decided to let my questions speak for themselves.

  • In what church is Heath Ledger a priest? And who are the nuns - Heather Graham and Tara Reid?

  • Why are these supernatural religious thrillers all exactly the same? Why do they all have the constant drone of Gregorian chanting on the soundtrack? Why are they all so dark, with the only light being provided by errant rays of sun streaming through cracks in the curtains? Haven't the characters ever heard of light bulbs?

  • Why do creepy children always hover in the background of these films? And if said children are supposed to create an ominous feeling, why do they always cast cute kids instead of weird-looking kids?

  • Why does the Catholic church always take such a beating in movies like this? Why is it always portrayed as a shadowy organization full of self-righteous clergy who hatch nefarious schemes aimed at making people too fearful to go against the church’s wishes? Sure, the organization has been responsible for some nasty stuff over the centuries, but you could never attack any other faith so relentlessly. Does Hollywood just hate Catholicism, or do filmmakers honestly believe that the Pope hands out knives and guns so that young priests can go off and kill people the church doesn’t like?

  • Given that the concept of sin eating brings with it a plethora of spiritual and moral uncertainties, how did this movie so deftly avoid dealing with any of them?

  • Why does The Order not have a original bone in its body? Why does it fail to do a single thing that wasn't already done in The Exorcist and its sequels? Or The Omen and its sequels? Or Stigmata? Or Bless the Child? What was the point of making it if it was just going to be an inferior retread of a thousand other films?

    You get the picture. This is bad stuff. Real bad. So bad, in fact, that I am compelled to offer up a little fire and brimstone. With my star rating, I now smite the makers of this pathetic piece of trash with ceaseless negativity.

    ( out of four)

    The Order is rated R for violent images, sexuality, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.

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