This article originally ran on February 14, 2018 on Mike Podgor’s Monsters of Multimedia.
Today’s subject is The Order, a film from 2003 and one that holds an infamous place in my heart. This has nothing to do with the movie itself, since both times I kept dozing off either due to boredom or painkiller-induced sleepiness. I’m not even sure if the movie even has a decent monster in it, though I seem to remember there being one or two knocking around the narrative. No, the reason this movie has such a place in my personal pantheon is due to the circumstances surrounding its entry to my collection.
At the time, my group of friends had absorbed a coterie of significant others and other assorted hangers-on. These non-friends were hell-bent on watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, which most of us had grown weary of since we had watched it over a dozen times since its release and it had a constant place in a hellish rotation that consisted of Spaceballs, two episodes of Family Guy, and the last fifteen minutes of Reservoir Dogs. This time, many other options were proffered but what we’ll call the significant minority would brook nothing less than adherence to their will. It was Pirates or nothing, and for most of us nothing was the more attractive option. Eventually, arguing with them grew so tiresome that three of us ventured out to Blockbuster to take advantage of their pre-owned DVD sale. I tried to be magnanimous in my choice and tried to find a movie that everyone present could theoretically enjoy, and wound up with The Order featuring Heath Ledger.
Ledger had been in several movies the significant minority lauded and was an actor they fancied, and so my choice seemed like a safe one. My only mistake was that The Order had been marketed as a horror film and the significant minority detested horror movies. The stalemate continued until it was broken by a former friend declaring that since it was his house, he would choose what we watched (he termed it an “executive decision”) and that was how we ended up watching Gundam and no one left that house happy that night. This was far from the last time the former friend domineered the television, and far from the last time the significant minority made things difficult for everyone. At this time, the only two who survived the experience are myself and Ethan Crane. Well, the two of us and The Order.
The film centers around Heath Ledger’s attempts to discover who murdered his mentor and why but the real mystery is why almost no one in this movie seems to want to be in it. Their bored wanderings around Rome almost put me to sleep a third time but I’ve a job to do: discern who the monster of The Order is, if there is any. I really hope there’s one, otherwise this article is a bust.
Our protagonist is Father Alex Bernier (portrayed by Heath Ledger) and he’s part of an order of the Roman Catholic Church dedicated to the things that have fallen slightly out of favor over the centuries (you know, belief in literal angels, literal demons, the stigmata, and sin-eating) and while he’s supposedly broken up about his mentor’s death, absolutely none of this comes through in his acting. He reacts to everything with an almost sullen indifference and by the end of the movie he’s no longer a priest. In fact, he’s committed murder and become a sin-eater after having sex with his love interest. In any other movie, Alex’s order would be much more interesting but this is none of those movies. Despite all of this, while Alex becomes a monster (a sin-eater, to be specific) he is not this movie’s most prominent monster.
Alex’s love interest is Mara Williams (portrayed by Shannyn Sossamon) and she’s a woman with a haunted past. A literally haunted past, as she met Bernier at a botched exorcism and had to spend years in an asylum when she tried to kill him. He’s brought her to Rome because she’s escaped that asylum and Bernier is able to transport her from New York to Rome with absolutely no problems. Mara is mainly there to be a plot device and be an object for Alex’s affections. He winds up sleeping with her on the advice of a sin-eater, and her final act in the movie is to be killed by that same sin-eater to spur Alex into dubious action. She’s not a monster in any sense of the word. She’s barely even a character.
Alex’s sidekick is Father Thomas Garrett (portrayed by Mark Addy) and he’s the only protagonist with any kind of screen presence or charisma. As the third member of Alex’s order, he tags along on the Rome trip to help find out what’s going on. Somewhat sadly, Thomas is waylaid about a third of the way through the movie by an invisible demon luring him into a room and shooting nails at him. Luckily, he survives this and lives through the movie. The only monstrous thing about him is his lack of screen-time.
One of Alex’s other contacts is a Cardinal named Driscoll (portrayed by Peter Weller) and he’s the only other character in this movie who’s the least bit interesting to watch. He’s the one who spurs Alex into action with news of his mentor’s demise. Driscoll is in line to be the Pope, but he’s already the Black Pope and it’s eventually revealed that the events of the film are actually part of a conspiracy between him, Alex’s deceased mentor, and the sin-eater. Driscoll never considered that Alex and Thomas would discover his status as the Black Pope and report him, forcing him out of the priesthood in shame. He also never thought that Alex, as a sin-eater, would force Driscoll to die filled with sin. Despite all of Driscoll’s poor planning skills, he’s still technically just a man and is not, in fact, a monster for the purposes of this blog.
There’s also William Eden (portrayed by Benno Fürmann), the only existing sin-eater. Rather than fighting Spider-Man and killing Jean DeWolff, he travels the world and removes the sins of those who are decidedly not sinless and can’t receive Last Rites due to their nefarious natures. He’s been around since they built Saint Peter’s Basilica, and while he claims to lead a pretty full life the only things we see proving this are his private jet and palatial estate filled with various pieces of art. Eden was responsible for all the woes of Mara and Alex, and at this point his only goal is to die. Alex grants him this wish, and becomes the new sin-eater. While Eden is a monster, he’s not visually a monster and besides his immortality shows no actual monstrous qualities. He’s just a bored guy who eats sins and kills a few people. I mean, I guess he could be the film’s monster but there’s actually a better pair of candidates.
In the end, the only true monsters of the film are two creepy orphan children who pop up every so often during the movie to stand around looking creepy. Their most notable scene is in a cemetery, where they turn into a swarm of bats to half-heartedly attack Alex. Other than that, all they do is stand there and watch, with absolutely no explanation for their presence and no bearing on much of anything. They’re the only things in this movie that really convey the sense of monster this blog endeavors to spotlight, and so it’s to them we must grant the crown. Besides, they’re the only characters that help a sense of evil or dread in a movie that’s almost completely devoid of any kind of tension.
This movie could have been good, if it had been about Mark Addy going up against Peter Weller and his demon twins. Maybe once in a while they could have visited with the more boring characters of the movie to see what was going on, but that would probably be unnecessary. I would probably not recommend this movie to any of you, unless you really want to view all of Heath Ledger’s movies.