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Film Review: 36 Saints (2013)

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SYNOPSIS:

“Seven” meets “The Da Vinci Code,” when New York Police Headquarters is confronted with the horror of a serial murderer loose on the streets of Manhattan.

REVIEW:

On the tough streets of New York, someone is seemingly killing off the innocent. A priest has his head smashed in on the underground and his church desecrated, and a bright young teen is found crucified not long after. The two cops assigned to the case, Joseph (Franky G) and his partner, Michael (Jeffrey De Serrano), soon discover that the victims were connected: both were members of a group of a local religious group who had survived a plane crash the year before.

This group is made up mostly of teens, all who attend the same school. Eve (Britne Oldford) is also involved in making an indie horror film, and finds the time to try and organise a memorial for those who died in the plane crash. Soon her friends become the focus of the killer, and the detectives realise that he seems to be acting on an interpretation of passages from the bible, in which 36 saints who allegedly protect us from evil must die in order for evil to rule to the world. Will they be able to stop the killer from bringing about the end of days?

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While an interesting concept on paper, ‘36 Saints’ major problems lie in the confusing nature of the plot and lack of real focus in the story. We are told through an ominous voice-over at the start just exactly what is going on – that through every generation, 36 righteous ‘saints’ protect us from the evil of the world, and that ‘Lilith’, the original sinner, wants to destroy them to unleash eternal darkness on the world – but we are then presented with the fact that all of these 36 saints happen to reside in New York, in the same neighbourhood?

And what makes these teenagers so righteous in the first place? They spend most of their time hanging around in a nightclub, partying. Hardly the next Mother Theresa or Joan of Arc material and their existence in the world seems as inconsequential as any of the characters.

This contrived, muddled set up leads to another big problem: seeing as we know what is happening from the start, we have to sit and wait for the detectives and teens to eventually catch up to us. Hardly clever writing and the film would have benefited greatly from focusing more on the detectives and their investigation than on the teenagers. Why not present us with a mystery, and take us on the journey of piecing the puzzle together? It leaves the film sorely lacking in tension or thrills. As it is, the film never shifts out of second gear, constantly plodding along between the murders until we figure out just who ‘Lilith’ is, which doesn’t take much work.

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As mentioned, the weakest aspect of the film is the teenagers. It just doesn’t gel with the detective material, and the sub plot involving Eve and the Indie film makes little sense, leading to much eye-rolling in the climax. Same goes for the supernatural and magical elements introduced in the final act; they just don’t work well with the convoluted 80 minutes that went before.

It’s a pity, as Britne Oldford is probably the best actor in 36 Saints, though saying that, there are no terrible performances among any of the leads. Franky G, despite his bodybuilder background, does well here, and gives a reasonably engaging performance as the tortured detective. ‘Orange is the New Black’ fans will recognise Laverne Cox as the nightclub host, though she’s sadly underused and only appears in a handful of scenes. Looks-wise, the film is shot well, with director Eddy Duran doing his best with a limited budget and restricted locations.

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Pitched as a cross between ‘Seven’ and ‘The Da Vinci Code’, the film really fails to engage in the mystery that both of those works are known for. By halving the amount of characters and focusing on the detectives, ‘36 Saints’ might have stood a chance at being an interesting low-budget indie thriller. As it is though, the film is probably too contrived and convoluted for a bigger audience to find much to enjoy here.

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