SPOILERS has to be an almost unclassifiable film; it is not a conventional horror film, it's not a conventional serial killer movie, it's not a conventional psychological study, and it's not a conventional religious film (pro- or anti-, actually, I for a somewhat disturbing take on the film from a right-wing Christian perspective, read this review here
). We are left with a central ambiguity, what is going on here, and how are we to respond to it?
The film isn't a conventional horror film in several respects: It's not all that scarry or horrifying, most of the time. While there are several scenes that elicit psychological discomfort (the one truly scary moment is when Adam kills his first "demon," the quick cut and sound fx are very effective, and made me jump), and while the film has plenty of brutal murders, almost all of which take place largely off-screen (the most brutal murder is committed by Agent Doyle, a victim of Adam, but even that murder is staged behind a billowing, white sheet, and is executed in silhouette, well until the blood splatters all over the sheet), Paxton really doesn't sustain any tension or sense of fear (except towards the end, as Adam and Doyle venture into the Rose Garden), they are dissapated by long stretches of normalcy and mundane activity, not to mention the frequent interruptions of the flashbacks by the contemporary story. Plus, it's kind of hard to be scared of Paxton, who except when distressed during his demon destroying or in his attempts to convince Fenton of God's will, plays his character as rather genial, quiet, caring, and well, a nice guy; someone the neighbors would never suspect, as the proverbial saying would go.
As for the serial killer aspect, it is unclear exactly if Paxton's visions are the result of insanity, and that he really is a sociopath (the same as Adam), or that he is acting out the commands of God, atleast until the ending, when the FBI agents can't remember exactly what "Fenton" looked like, all the security videotapes are inexplicably blurred when "Fenton" is on camera, as well as the rather compelling evidence that Adam knew of Doyle's guilt in teh murder of his mother. So maybe he is not crazy, and that all of these characters really are demons. Though can we really trust Adam's recollections of his father visions as he layed his hands upon the demons and revealed the truth? Maybe they were innocent people, but Adam's first victim is hardly the nicest of persons, so maybe Dad and Adam really are fighting the good fight against God. Ironically, the film does contain one bonafide, sociopathic, serial killer, the "rational" Fenton, who, while declared a demon by God's angel, probably became unhinged by the experiences he underwent with his father. So is Fenton really a demon, and as my friend pointed out, how come Dad couldn't detect his demonic status earlier, when he touched him. Is this a self-filling prophecy, or does one have to commit crimes to become a demon? Then there is a fact that Adam is really a sheriff, perhaps he is a good detective, and found Doyle with somekind of forensic knowledge, and he (and apparently his wife, and unborn child, in the future) really are delusional.
But then, the film becomes a rather problematic psychological examination. I was ready to believe that Paxton was crazy, even if he was a rather affable guy, and that Adam was following in his father's demented footsteps, but then there is the evidence to the contrary, that maybe his victims are really demons, that maybe he really is following God's word, maybe he really is seeing visions (he seems convinced, and his unhingement seems completely out of blue, one minute, I'll help my son with his math this weekend, the next commanded to kill God; and couldn't God come up with a little better weapon than a lead pipe?), and that maybe Fenton really is a demon (I liked the use of the biblical story of God's commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac). As I said before, Paxton seems like a really normal guy, and when he acts "crazy" it seems more out of frustration or confusion.
And for religion, what kind of God would command someone to do this? An Old Testament vengeful God? A loving God, I mean, if these people really are demons, than Paxton and his brood are doing us a favor. What is really interesting, is that Paxton and his family never seem particulary pious. They talk about prayer and visions, but they never actually pray, they don't go to church, they really don't ever read anything religious (except for that book Holy Visions
), they have no really religious iconography. They talk about doing God's work, but they don't seem the type who would suddenly take their religious to the murderous extreme? What are we to make of this?