Beyond the Slimy Wall: The Seventh Sign
By Stephanie Star Smith
July 14, 2005
We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this weekly column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
The Seventh Sign
Once upon a time, Demi Moore was a pretty good actress.
No, really. No. Really.
Before the oddly-named kiddies and the pregnant-and-nude magazine covers and the boy-toy antics and the over-the-top attempts to keep looking 30 years old, Demi Moore actually did some good work in films. She seemed to give half-a-damn about acting, and pick projects based less on how good they made her look physically than whether the project sounded intriguing and it was a good part.
Yeah, I know; lo, how the sort-of mighty have fallen.
But before the debacle that is now the career of Demi Moore, she made this lovely little end-of-days flick about the Biblical apocalypse and the Second Coming. Moore stars as Abby Quinn, a young wife and soon-to-be mother in San Francisco whose husband Russell is a defense lawyer. But what should be a joyous time in the young woman's life is shadowed by tragedy; Abby suffered a miscarriage during her first pregnancy, and her doctor has warned that she is at high risk of never being able to carry a child to term. The loss of her child, coupled with the very real possibility that she might never become a mother, led Abby to attempt suicide after her first pregnancy terminated. The latest pregnancy has Abby worried about the baby, and Russell and Abby's gynecologist worried about the mother-to-be's fragile state of mind.
Russell is having a tough time of his own; his current client is a mentally-handicapped young man convicted of killing his parents, who were actually brother and sister. The developmentally-disabled teen claimed God instructed him to kill his parents in order to cleanse them, and him, of their sins. All Russell's efforts to have his client's death sentence overturned or commuted, or to obtain clemency for the mentally-impaired young man, have so far come to naught, and time is running out.
While Russell and Abby are dealing with their problems, the Vatican is contending with some troubles of its own. A series of recent events seem to presage the end of the world: rivers that appear to have turned to blood; a snowstorm in a Middle Eastern desert; and a sea boiling, destroying all life within it. As these incidents closely match those listed in Revelations as harbingers of the End of Days, the Holy See dispatches the Church's chief expert on paranormal activity and Biblical prophecy, Father Lucci, to determine if in fact the end of the world is seriously freaking nigh.
Into the middle of these concurrent stories walks David, who wishes to rent the apartment over the Quinn's garage. Abby is quite taken with David, who seems pleasant enough, if a little eccentric, and invites him to dinner on his first night in the apartment. It is at this gathering that he tells his new landlords of the Guff, a corner of Heaven where folklore tells that souls are held, awaiting the birth of the child into which they are intended to go. As a baby is born, a bird brings the soul down from the Guff so it may be united with its intended host. But as with most folk tales, there is a sinister side to the Guff; the story holds that one day, mankind's wickedness will deplete the Guff, leaving it empty and giving the Four Horsemen their cue.
After meeting David and hearing the story of the Guff, Abby starts having strange experiences during her waking life, and her sleep is haunted by dream fragments of a past life. Increasingly convinced that her new tenant is somehow involved not only in what is happening to her but in the cataclysmic events told on the nightly news, the expectant mother becomes determined to discover who David really is, what is occurring in the world and how it is connected to her baby, as deep in her soul she knows this is the only course of action that will save her unborn child.
One of the cool things about The Seventh Sign is that, while its apocalyptic catastrophes hew pretty closely to those described in Revelations, the film is not a Christian polemic. In fact, we have no idea what faith Abby is, and her principal ally in deciphering the apocalyptic puzzle is a young rabbinical student. And the representatives of Good and Evil don't quite act as one would expect; the former, though sympathetic, is mostly detached from the consequences of carrying out his mission, while the latter is only trying to finally secure peace for himself.
The cast is certainly a high-water mark. As mentioned at the outset, we have the Demi Moore who actually gave a damn about acting; in a role that could have so easily brought out the melodramatic overacting that bedevils horror flicks, Moore keeps herself grounded in the reality of a woman desperate to be a mother and who will do literally anything to save the life of her child. Then there's Michael Biehn as her husband Russell, who displays the skills that have won him the respect of his peers, not to mention a fanatical following; and Jürgen Prochnow utilizing his near-albino, freakish good looks and dispassionate persona to great effect. The supporting players also acquit themselves well, forming a cohesive acting unit that sustains the universe of the film and never jars the viewer out of the story.
The script also sustains the high level of quality in the film. While the plot is full of metaphysical episodes and spiritual portents, it's not so bent on being cryptic that it is purposely obtuse, nor is the Idiot Plotline employed. The flick even does something that is, sadly, increasingly rare these days; it actually shows, rather than tells, what is happening and what motivates its characters. You know, like movies are supposed to do. The dialogue is smart, realistic and never sacrifices coherence for perceived cleverness.
But perhaps the greatest praise I can give The Seventh Sign is that it has a kick-ass ending, one that is neither entirely happy nor completely despairing, one that gathers all the disparate threads of its various plot lines together for the conclusion. It is one of those rare films where the final sequence will surely resonate with the viewer long after the end credits roll.
The Seventh Sign clocks in at a brisk 97 minutes that never taxes the viewer's patience, and while it shows up on premium cable from time to time, you really should consider seeking it out during your next trek to your local rental emporium. It is certainly more than worth the effort of actively seeking out, rather than waiting until the cable PTB deign to once again broadcast it on the airwaves.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.