Written by: Matthew Robert Kelly
Directed by: Kevin Carraway
Starring: Vinnie Jones, Christian Slater, Emily Tennant
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Evil never dies.
Some movies leave you speechless for all the wrong reasons, and Way of the Wicked earns that dubious distinction. Since watching it, all I can come up with is “oof”—this is one rough, embarrassing effort, especially considering the logline, which can be summed up thusly: “Christian Slater goes all Dr. Loomis as a priest looking to ward off the antichrist’s presence.” Forgetting for a second that he may or may not have been up to the exact same thing in The Wizard two decades ago (I still don’t trust that fuckin’ Jimmy kid—nobody could know those secret warps in Mario 3 without some influence from the dark side, and they didn’t call him a wizard for nothing), that's promising, seeing as how Christian Slater is better than most things.
But even he can’t salvage the wreck that is Way of the Wicked. His top billing is more ceremonial than anything since he only shows up in a handful of scenes, including the prologue, where he questions young Robbie after a bizarre bullying incident that ended with a kid mysteriously strangling to death. Five years later, Robbie (Jake Croker) has reached high school and returned to his hometown after his family moved to avoid further suspicion. He still has eyes for his childhood sweetheart, Heather (Emily Tennant), which doesn’t sit well with her boyfriend Greg (Aren Buchholz), a jerky, alpha-male type who immediately tries to make Robbie’s life a living hell. Unbeknownst to Greg, Robbie may or may not be the antichrist—at least that’s Father Henry’s (Slater) theory when the former’s body winds up on the business end of a corn thresher.
It’s never a good sign when you’re not sure who you feel the worst for in a movie. Way of the Wicked provides more than a few candidates, but I’m going to go with poor Croker, who rarely is asked to deliver anything beyond a few monosyllabic lines at a time, if only because he might not be able to do anything else convincingly. Tommy Wiseau probably looks at this kid’s performance and cringes at every awkward pause and stilted line-reading. Given the material, it seems clear that Croker has been coached into putting on an obviously creepy performance, which is weird considering how the film otherwise treats his character. I think you’re supposed to sympathize with him, if only because he’s the lesser of two evils since the kids surrounding him are unbelievable assholes (this is the worst high school ever), but the film can’t decide if he’s Damien Thorn (one character even refers to him as an “Omen kid” at one point) or Carrie White. Considering his stalky, disturbing behavior, he’s much more like the former—plus, the fact that he’s Satan incarnate does him no favors.
Anyway, several other folks don’t fare much better. Slater seems pretty disinterested during his few, brief appearances, while Tennant is mostly just serviceable as the object of Robbie’s affection. Surprisingly, Vinnie Jones comes off the best in the role of Heather’s concerned dad; it’s not a typical “heavy” role for Jones, even if he is playing a cop (albeit one that’s broken down—haunted by his wife, drowning in booze and work, etc.). He’s the only person resembling an actual human being in the film, whereas everyone else either resembles an extraterrestrial or only functions as a plot device or exposition machine. Worst of all, everyone’s subjected to a rote, mechanical story that’s been cobbled together from superior films—obviously, Omen II is a huge reference point, only Way of the Wicked isn’t nearly as committed to the grand guignol possibilities of an antichrist raising hell on earth. Outside of the thresher sequence, the film isn’t all that inventive (and, hell, there are better thresher death scenes out there).
For much of the runtime, I thought I would at least have some nice things to say about the film’s plot, which looks to explore some strange, unexpected territory at times. See, there’s a heavy astronomical bent early on: Robbie’s class discusses the possibility of life on other planets, and the local hangout is named after Galileo. Does this cleverly foreshadow an intermingling of astronomy and the Bible and setup this antichrist to be like a space alien or something? No. In fact, the astronomical stuff goes absolutely nowhere and amounts to nothing more than teasing the possibility that Way of the Wicked is at least going to try something a little different with Satan’s spawn. Instead, whatever mythology the film bothers to espouse is some vague, generic claptrap that Slater reads from a book a couple of times (in fact, the huge cross adorning his neck might be the film’s only notable embellishment, and I bet you can guess exactly how that gets repurposed by the antichrist).
Compounding matters is the utter listlessness of the entire affair, from the murky, lifeless digital aesthetic to the eye-rolling, illogical, last-minute twist that’s telegraphed about halfway through the film. I’m not even going to dignify it with a reference to Shyamalan because to do so would be stooping to this film’s level, which plunges to unholy depths of mediocrity and boredom. Its 92 minutes are an endurance test, and I’m not even going to criticize it too harshly for practically quitting at the end with a non-resolution—at least it had the decency to mercifully end. I hate to be this down on a movie, but Way of the Wicked is cynical filmmaking: it provides some familiar faces and familiar genre cues with the hope that it’ll earn a space at the table by default. Instead, it’s an easily disposable cast-off, ready to join a horde of other bargain-basement imitators. A direct-to-video affair in the highest order, the film recently landed on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Image Entertainment, whose standard-def offering is fine but unremarkable: essentially, its transfer and soundtrack get the job done, but there are no extra features to speak of, probably because Way of the Wicked provides so very little to comment on. Oof. Trash it!
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