If you thought the “Twilight” saga was ridiculous, just wait until you get a gander at Scott Hicks’ “Fallen.” Lauren Kate’s 2009 YA novel—the first in a popular series, of course—was an obvious rip-off of Stephanie Meyer’s romance-with-a-vampire saga, but was even more ludicrous than its model, replacing the bloodsuckers with fallen angels and adding reincarnation to the mix. On screen the concept becomes even goofier than it was on the page, especially when played with such overripe earnestness as here.
The hapless heroine is a girl named Lucia, or Luce (Allison Timlin), whom we meet as she’s dropped off by her parents at a Gothic style castle serving, it appears, as combination reform school and psychiatric facility. Luce is haunted by visions and refuses to take meds to control them; she also was apparently involved in a deadly fire.
She’s immediately pushed around by a sullenly strong mean girl with blazing reddish hair and what appear to be superhuman powers. More important, she draws the attention of another student, leather-clad bad-boy Cam (Harrison Gilbertson). But she’s more interested in a blond stud, Daniel (Jeremy Irvine), whom she thinks she remembers from somewhere but who steadfastly puts her off. The environment is indeed a strange one: among other odd occurrences, a huge stone gargoyle topples from the roof and nearly crushes Luce, who’s pickling up leaves from the grounds as a punishment. Only Daniel’s intervention saves her. At another point, the students are given a fencing class in which they have at one another with a vengeance, though Luce herself questions the wisdom of giving troubled kids swords to play with.
Eventually the truth about Daniel, Cam and a few of the other students is revealed; it involves the story versified by John Milton in “Paradise Lost”—apparently the sole text taught at the place by Sophia Bliss (Joely Richardson), who describes herself as the instructor in religious studies—though with a curious addendum (it appears that in addition to the angels who remained loyal to God and those who fell with Lucifer, there was a third group, which was rejected for failing to take a stand and for whom Love was the prime mover). Luce turns out to have a central role in that struggle of good against evil and those who remained unaffiliated in it, which is where the idea of continuous rebirth comes in.
“Fallen” is a nearly incomprehensible farrago of the tropes of young adult literature and pseudo-religious myth, hobbled by a trio of uncharismatic leads and exploding at the end with some hilarious not-so-special effects. It’s directed without any perceptible style by Hicks, a director who once worked on substantial material (“Shine,” for example) but, on the evidence his last film (“The Lucky One,” based on a book by Nicholas Sparks) and this, no longer cares. Of the young actors at the center, Irvine (of “Warhorse” and “Stonewall”) has presence but little more, while Timlin, whom we’re supposed to care about, barely registers, and Gilbertson poses amateurishly. Richardson, meanwhile, is simply embarrassing, but Lola Kirke is likable as Luce’s loyal roommate Penn. Barbara Ling’s production design, Alar Kivilo’s cinematography, and Scott Gray’s editing are all okay, but the goofy wing effects in the climactic battle showing off the budgetary limitations that apparently plagued the production.
That doesn’t stop “Fallen,” however, from having an abrupt, unsatisfying ending that effectively turns the movie into a prologue to a sequel that is unlikely ever to materialize. It is, of course, an adaptation of the first volume in a quartet, so the inconclusive finale was probably foreordained. But that won’t make it any more agreeable for viewers unfamiliar with Kate’s books. Meanwhile, those who do know and appreciate them will probably not be much taken by the filmmakers’ subpar effort to transfer them to the screen. The result is not angelic in any sense.