US / 82 minutes / color / SC Global Media, Active Fox Dir: Eddy Duran Pr: Joey Dedio Scr: Joey Dedio, Jeffrey De Serrano Cine: Isidro Urquia Cast: Franky G, Jeffrey De Serrano, Britne Oldford, Tyrone Brown, Matthew Daddario, Aja Naomi King, Chris Riggi, Alesandra Assante, Laverne Cox, Allan Louis, Joey Dedio, Mihaela Kolich, Maya Days, Raul Casso, Jaime Tirelli, Donna McKechnie, Frances Lozada, Dominic Colón, Esau Pritchett, Jonathan Duran, Carlos Lozada, Mareo Ryan, Cain Ruiz.
The opening of this movie features cityscapes and apocalyptic scenes overlain by an extended voiceover that it’s hard to resist the temptation to parody:
According to ancient mythology, in every generation, there are thirty-six individuals who carry the suffering of the world, and assist those in dire need. The thirty-six are amongst us all. Anyone you meet could be one of them. The world exists in the merit of these thirty-six righteous people. Without them, the world we know would fall into chaos, corruption and eventually darkness. To achieve this darkness, there are those too who have chosen evil over good. They are united by their leader, Lilith, and are all marked by the symbol of darkness. Once their mission on this earth is completed, they are destroyed, either by self-infliction, or by another Dark One. Damnation falls on the ones who do not choose to be evil and want to escape the wrath of Lilith. Lilith’s ultimate revenge is to destroy the thirty-six by choosing the same fate that their namesakes have immortalized. The final nine have been discovered. By abolishing them, darkness will reign over light.
What you get when (at least in this movie) you google for “Lilith” — saucy, eh?
I’ve encountered the Hebraic mythology of the Lamedvavnik—the 36 righteous ones—somewhere before (don’t ask me where!), and it has always been my impression that the 36 are supposedly scattered around the world, unknown to each other and perhaps not even knowing their own status. In this movie things are changed a bit, with the assumption being that, not only do they know each other, but that, with a couple of exceptions, they’ve assembled together as a group. Also, they’re linked in to Christian, specifically Roman Catholic, saints, plus other biblical characters whose names they share—including Jesus.
It’s Hallowe’en. Almost exactly a year ago 27 of the 36 saints died in a plane crash near Montreal, the only survivor of the tragedy being a priest, Father Judas Neri (Tirelli). Seven of the other nine saints were off being presented with a humanitarian award at the UN; these seven young people are now studying at the swanky Academy of Royals in what I think is supposed to be NYC, although the geography doesn’t seem to match. The seven are:
- Eve Masters (Oldford)
- Valentine (Brown)
- Sebastian (Daddario)
- Joan (King)
- Dominic Savio (Riggi)
- Maria Goretti (Assante)
- Jesus Ochoa (Ruiz)
Father Esteban (Carlos Lozada) dies in the subway.
On Hallowe’en night another priest, Father Esteban Lopez (Carlos Lozada), is murdered in the subway by being hit over the head with a big rock—just as St. Stephen/Esteban was supposed to have been martyred by being stoned to death. Instructed by their boss, Fanny Tudor (Kolich), homicide detectives Joseph “Joe” Reyes (G) and Michael Montoya (De Serrano) investigate the murder, in scenes that seem to be in deliberate homage to SE7EN (1995), albeit without the gore. Indeed, 36 Saints seems in general to be a somewhat distant echo of Se7en, although in this instance we’re clearly intended to swallow the mythology.
Eve (Britne Oldford) and Sebastian (Matthew Daddario).
Mihaela Kolich as Fanny Tudor.
Jeffrey De Serrano as Montoya (left) and Franky G as Reyes.
Joe knows Father Neri of old, and clearly regards him as something of a spiritual mentor. As they look at the shattered remains of the statues of the holy family in the church, Neri tells the cops that the desecration of idols is a sign that the End of Days is imminent.
Aja Naomi King as Joan.
Soon the pair have another murder to contend with: Jesus Ochoa is found crucified in another (I think) local church. They visit the dead boy’s mother, Tilda (Frances Lozada), and from her obtain a photo linking Jesus to the wider community of the 36 saints. Meanwhile Father Neri has decided to hang himself for his betrayal of Lopez and Jesus—yes, the “Judas” part of his name is more than symbolic.
Jaime Tirelli as Father Judas Neri.
The surviving saints, when not attending theology classes given by Professor Okafor (Pritchett) or chatting with friendly teacher Miss L (McKechnie), hang around in a nightclub called The Deity (I’m not kidding), run by the estimable Genesius (Cox).
Laverne Cox as Genesius.
Some of them also have jobs: Eve is working as an actress in what looks to be a dire indie slasher movie while Maria, who’s studying for a career in the hospitality industry, works as a maid in the Chelsea International Hostel, where, despite her piety, she indulges in occasional illicit whoopee with her co-worker Alessandro Medea (Casso). Overall, although we’re told a few times about the tremendous goodness of the kids, we never really see them doing any of their grand humanitarian work—they seem like just average kids doing average studenty things.
Frances Lozada as the dead Jesus’s mother Tilda.
Joe’s life is being enlivened by street crazy Punches Pilot (Louis) who, despite the name (geddit?), has a role that seems in no way an analogue to that of the governor in the New Testament. Punches tends to bellow frequently at Joe about obscure Bible passages and prophecies that Joe finally begins to interpret in light of the legend of the 36 saints . . .
Allan Louis as Punches Pilot.
Alesandra Assante as Maria (left) and Donna McKechnie as Miss L.
Esau Pritchett as Professor Okafor.
I’ve mentioned the vague similarity of feel between this and Se7en, but really this is a very different movie—and a decidedly lesser one. In essence, it has a giallo plot but eschews all the other characteristics you’d expect from a giallo, notably the nudity and the graphic violence; while we’re aware that brutal murders are happening, we see (to take one example) the blood spattering rather than the actual full-frontal stabbing.
There are, of course, some very evident plotting problems. Why is it essential that the modern saints be killed in the same fashion as their long-ago namesakes, and why is it only essential now? After all, the 27 saints who died in that air disaster weren’t emulating their biblical precursors, none of whom died in a plane crash. And, if Lilith and her evil band have indeed discovered the identities of the last nine saints, why do they spread out the annihilation over a period of days rather than use their supernatural abilities to knock a’em all off pronto? And why be secretive about what they’re doing?—after all, if the world’s on the verge of eternal darkness, what’s the point of dodging the cops?
Tyrone Brown as Valentine.
Adding to the confusion is that several of the non-saint cast are bumped off as well for reasons completely unknown. It’s not as if they could stop the activities of the guilty parties, or even hinder them much. As for those guilty parties, their identities are pretty obvious from quite early on.
Some of the acting is fairly flat, particularly on the part of the movie’s supposed leads, Franky G and (most especially) Jeffrey De Serrano. Moreover, the two cops seem to have watched a few too many mumblecore movies; I ended up switching on the subtitles. But there are some good turns, too, from Britne Oldford, Aja Naomi King and Tyrone Brown, and, in much smaller parts, Laverne Cox, Allan Louis and Esau Pritchett. Added to that, Isidro Urquia’s cinematography is a pleasure to watch, and sometimes outright gorgeous.
In light of what I’ve been saying in the preceding paragraphs, I actually found 36 Saints pretty engaging. It bubbles along for the most part at a pretty good pace, making it seem like a far shorter movie than it actually is. (It’s not very long anyway, but . . .) With an underlying premise that’s interesting even if not perhaps properly thought through, and despite the clichés here and the sillinesses there, the movie was such that I was prepared to live with the many blemishes and just enjoy myself.