Whaddayaknow! I found a recent movie, with Satan as the bad guy, that was not only well-done, but also pretty darn creepy. And not little Satan lackeys, mind you, the big man himself.
I’ve always admired Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Millenium, Pumpkinhead) as an actor. He’s got that cool voice and a face that can be either completely nice and paternal or downright menacing. And those are the extremes he goes to in this genuinely creepy movie that really keeps you guessing. The Garden came out last year, and I have to admit that its not what I expected.
Adam Taylor Gordon plays Sam, a disturbed 7th grade boy who’s been hospitalized for mental illness. Suffers from bad dreams and excessive creativity, it seems. He draws lots of scary pictures about trees. He and his father are returning home from the hospital when they have an accident on a remote country road. They are nursed back to health by a kindly old rancher named Ben (Lance Henriksen). For reasons that seem a little trumped up (but Henriksen and Gordon play such interesting, believable characters so I didn’t care) they stay with the old man, and Sam’s father helps around the ranch.
Sam starts having visions of walking corpses with their mouths stitched shut, and there’s a strange twisted tree on the property with a single fruit growing on it. But Sam can’t be sure the things he sees at night are real or dreams, not even when he witnesses Ben bury a hatchet in the head of Sam’s psychiatrist (played by Claudia Christian), who has come to check on Sam’s well-being.
The film is about the seductiveness of how everyday life can lead you down the wrong road, and Henriksen is masterful in that seductiveness. He never overdoes it, and always leaves you wondering what will happen next, until he reveals that he is, in fact, the Devil, and that strange tree is the Tree of Knowledge from the Garden of Eden. He’s out to reverse God’s plans for the world, and he needs Sam’s father to eat from the tree.
Claudia Christian doesn’t have much to do in this movie, but she does a fine job while she’s around. I’ve missed seeing her since Babylon 5 finished up; she played one of my favorite characters. I was also impressed by the boy. He was intelligent, believable, and a great character.
The ending gets a little muddled, but I walked away from this movie well satisfied, and thinking, “See! Satan IS scary!” At least on film when he’s done well.