The Order
starring Heath Ledger and Shannyn Sossamon
1 1/2 stars

review by Stephen Notley

I think we can all agree there's plenty of things to be afraid of in this world. In the last few months alone you could catch a disease that turns you into a zombie, you could have your face melted off by an evil ghost girl crawling out of a TV, you could get grabbed by spindly humanoids and dragged into some dumb dimension, and now, in The Order, you could get excommunicated by the Church and be forever cut off from the redeeming grace of Christ.

Okay, sure -- you gotta be kinda Catholic to find that last one scary. But there's always been a current of churchy horror movies --The Exorcist, The First Power, The Seventh Sign, Stigmata-- that play on our dread of ultimate evils like Satan or --even worse-- maybe even God himself. 

The trailers and commercials for The Order make it look almost like a church political conspiracy movie. We imagine some evil faction within the Vatican diabolically trying to control the Catholic church, like Godfather III with a supernatural twist. That could have been interesting. But no, The Order is a much simpler thing, a churchy monster movie -- and by "churchy", you can also take that to mean "like going to church, in that it's long, boring, devoid of color and life and you find yourself jerking awake at spots."

It's kind of a head-scratcher why this movie is the way it is. The Order is a A Knight's Tale reunion party. The lead priest guy, Heath Ledger, was the Knight in A Knight's tale, his failed-exocisee/kinda-girlfriend Shannyn Sossamon was his girlfriend princess in A Kinght's tale, and his tough-talking priest buddy Mark Addy was his tough-talking squire pal in A Knight's Tale. Oh, and The Order was written and directed by Brian Hegeland, who wrote and directed A Knight's Tale.

A lot of people hate A Knight's Tale for being a retarded medieval knight movie with a soundtrack full of klassic rock hits like "Takin' Care of Business." Other people think that's why it rules. Regardless, The Order is a complete 180 from the style and tone of Knight's Tale; where one is packed with music and color and action and events, the other is dour and serious and flat and inert.

The Order has pretty much one kind of scene in it, and that's a darkly-dressed Heath Ledger wandering through ill-lit church basements in Rome. As mentioned above, this is a monster movie, but it's a strikingly slow, tensionless one. Heath Ledger is trying to find out why the old leader of his order "committed suicide"; Ledger thinks it was murder. Turns out he's kinda right, and it turns out the kinda-murdeer is this guy, German actor Benno Fuhrman, who we can tell is slightly evil because he's got a beard like Flexo on Futurama.

Benno (the character's name is William Eden, if you care) is a sin-eater. That is, if you've been excommunicated from the church, (and thus cut off from salvation), Benno can purge you of your sins by putting a piece of bread on your chest and then eating it, essentially doing an end run around the Catholic Church's end run around the unconditional redemption offered by Christ.

So, a couple of things. First of all, this isn't that scary. If anything, Benno's a rogue last-rite-giver, so he doesn't really seem to be doing anything wrong. Benno and Ledger pretty much just wander around chatting about sin-eating, what it's like, all that. There is some kind of evil faction in the church, led by Peter Weller who played Robocop in Robocop, but they just flit in and out of the movie without a lot of point. There's simply not a lot of conceptual oomph here, not much of an idea of dread in any way.

Second of all, as far as visual motifs go, church horror movies usually do best to rely on inversions and defoulings of the already-creepy trappings and rituals of the Catholic Church. Drenching everything with blood never hurts either. The Order in most of its scenes seems to be going for a lowball version of this, with lots of admittedly nice-looking color-desaturated shots of old churches in Rome. However, if the idea of the churchy horror movie is to elicit sepulchural dread, the worst way to bring that to life on screen is by using a goofy comptuer monster. Nonetheless, the actual sin-eating of The Order involves computer-generated sins that look like transluscent versions of the squidbots from The Matrix. Ouch.

Other than that, it's just booooooring. All the scenes look and feel the same, dark, dimly lit, and nothing very stimulating is going on. It feels like the worst memories of church. Chances are, a real church service would be ten times more fun and humanly stimulating than watching this movie, so if you're thinking of seeing the Order, why not just go to church?