Although it received mixed reactions from critics and audiences alike when released in 1998, this supernatural thriller benefits from a sustained atmosphere of anticipation and dread, and its combination of detective mystery and demonic mischief is handled with ample style and intelligence. Under the direction of Gregory Hoblit (who fared better with Primal Fear
), Denzel Washington plays detective John Hobbes, who witnesses the gas-chamber execution of a serial killer (Elias Koteas). But when another series of murders begins, Hobbes suspects that the killer's evil spirit has survived and is possessing the bodies of others to do its evil bidding. Even Hobbes's trusted partner (John Goodman) thinks the detective is losing his grip on reality, but the dire warnings of a noted linguist (Embeth Davidtz) confirm Hobbes's far-out theory, and his case intensifies toward a fateful showdown.
Although its idea is better than its execution, and the story's film noir ambitions are never fully accomplished, this slickly directed thriller has some genuinely effective moments in which evil forces are entwined into the fabric of everyday reality. Among the highlights is a memorable scene in which Detective Hobbes must track the killer as the evil spirit is transferred between many people via physical contact. Even if the film is ultimately less than the sum of its parts, it's an intriguing hybrid that resides in the same cinematic neighbourhood as Seven and The Silence of the Lambs with a cast that also includes Donald Sutherland and James Gandolfini. Included on the DVD is a full-length audio commentary by director Hoblit, screenwriter Nicholas Kazan and producer Charles Roven. --Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
Philadelphia detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington) watches as Edgar Reese, the serial killer he helped bring to justice, is executed. However, Reese behaves oddly prior to his death, and soon after his execution killings in his style start once more. Hobbes starts receiving late night phone calls from the copycat killer, and follows a trail of clues to another detective, Milano, who killed himself in a remote cabin thirty years ago. Carved on the wall is the name 'Azazel' - translated as 'demon of the wilderness'. Hobbes realises that Reese and Milano were both hosts for a killer demon, which now has its sights set on him.