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Friday, October 5, 2012

GABRIEL -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review originally appeared online at in 2007.)

According to the somber 2007 Australian film GABRIEL, Purgatory is an actual city inhabited by lost souls for which Heaven and Hell fight for possession.  The angels that are sent into battle by each side--seven archangels (or "arc" angels as they're called in the film) from Heaven and seven fallen angels from Hell--must become human although they still retain healing powers and certain other supernatural abilities. 

When the seventh arc angel Gabriel arrives, he finds that evil has taken over the city under the leadership of the dreaded Sammael, and that the other arc angels are either dead, missing, or eking out the rest of their miserable lives in defeat. 

Gabriel tracks down the surviving arc angels, including the lovely Amitiel (Samantha Noble), now working as a drug-addicted prostitute named Jade in a brothel run by Sammael's narcissistic cohort Asmodeus (Michael Piccirilli). But the most powerful of their number, Michael, is MIA.

The rest of the ragtag remnants of the arc angels include Uriel (Harry Pavlidis), now an alcoholic who lives in a wrecked bus in an abandoned drive-in theater, and Ithuriel (Matt Hylton Todd), who runs a soup kitchen while tending to the gravely-wounded Raphael (Jack Campbell) in an underground hideout beneath it.

Among Sammael's forces are Ahriman (Kevin Copeland), a brawny black guy with long blonde dreads; the loathesome Balan (Brendan Clearkin); and a bloodthirsty dominatrix named Lilith (Erika Heynatz), who resembles a really scary Jean Kasem. 

Most of the "angels" in GABRIEL aren't all that different from the warrior vampires in UNDERWORLD (the two films share a similiar look as well).  They all dress like Goths, carry firearms, and engage in a lot of quick-cut, slo-mo fights. 

Purgatory itself is a bit like the title location of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK with a little BLADE RUNNER and SIN CITY thrown in.  Many of the visuals, from bleak derelict interiors to moody nocturnal landscapes with dark clouds rolling overhead, are richly atmospheric. 

As the brooding, melancholy Gabriel, relative newcomer Andy Whitfield does a good job with the dramatic scenes while capably handling the shoot-em-up stuff as well.  Samantha Noble is an effectively forlorn presence as the pale, haunted Amitiel. 

Unfortunately, Dwaine Stevenson's Sammael isn't nearly as frightening and intimidating as intended.  Stevenson does his best with the cliche-ridden role, with the usual sinister scowls and fake-iris leers, but his not-quite-shoulder-length black hair and pinched expressions cause him at times to resemble a deranged Courtney Cox in the midst of a Hulk-out.

Some of the action scenes are quick and to the point--Gabriel breaks down a door and POW! POW! the bad guys are dead--while others, like the extended Gabriel-Sammael showdown, are a bit overlong and not that sharply choreographed.  My favorite is the imaginatively-staged shootout which takes place in total darkness, with strobe-like gun flashes providing the only illumination. 

 Gabriel's fight with Asmodeus within his own brothel is also fun, although some of the speed-up slow-down effects come off as a bit dopey-looking.  The dramatic scenes in between the bang-bang stuff occasionally tend to drag a bit, but not to the point of actual boredom.

What impressed me the most about this movie came afterward, when I found out that it was done on a tiny budget of only $150,000 dollars.  (This isn't taking into account the fact that everyone's paychecks were deferred, but still...)  With that in mind, it's amazingly well-done, capable of standing alongside similar efforts with much higher budgets. 

If it performs well, first-time director and co-writer Shane Abbess plans to make this the first episode of a trilogy, which I wouldn't mind checking out.  The story of GABRIEL does have a satisfying stand-alone resolution, but it's a downer and leaves much room for further exploration.

Buy it at


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