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Fantasy, suspense surround crisis of faith

'The Order' -- R

"The Order" certainly threw me for a loop. Going in, I was expecting to see a vampire movie (if you've seen the commercials, you know why). It took me about half an hour to realize I wasn't seeing a vampire movie, and another half hour to realize it wasn't a horror movie at all. By then, I had no idea what sort of movie it was.

"The Order" tells the story of Alex Bernier (Heath Ledger), a Catholic priest with a troubled past. When we first see Alex, he is celebrating Mass at his church, and already we know something is odd about him: he performs the service in Latin, an almost extinct practice. After Mass, Alex receives news that his former mentor has died, and that the Vatican wants him to investigate it. As Alex digs deeper into the mystery of the death, he finds himself drawn into a centuries old story of sin, blasphemy and redemption. This is all I'll reveal, because I went in knowing nothing about "The Order," and that made it more enjoyable.

Perhaps the oddest aspect of movie is the world in which it's set. Alex and his mentor belong to the Carolinian Order, the black sheep of the Catholic family. The Carolinians handle a lot of the darker and messier practices: they perform exorcisms, hunt down demons and battle the undead. You see, in their world, demonic forces are very real and very deadly, and only the Catholic Church knows they exist.

On the one hand, this is a creative twist on the part of writer/director Brian Helgeland -- the most boring part of fantasy movies is where the characters deny but slowly accept that monsters exist. In "The Order," however, all of our main characters know demons walk the earth and take it in stride. This makes the movie move faster and more enjoyable.

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On the other hand, we get a few spooky scenes involving demons, but that's about it. They really aren't part of the story; they're just part of the background. The viewer can thus be distracted from what's happening on screen by wondering why Helgeland put demons into the story at all. This creation of a mythology, combined with how open the ending was, makes "The Order" almost seem like a TV pilot that got converted into a feature length film. Whether this is good or bad depends on your tastes.

Now, a word of warning: "The Order" is a talky movie. I said before I wasn't really sure what genre it fell into, and this is why. It has many traits of fantasy, suspense and horror, but doesn't pay much attention to them. It does use some scenes to show off its special effects and ever-thickening plot, but the focus is more on Alex and his emotions.

"The Order" doesn't really exist to frighten or awe people; it exists to make them think and to show a man's emotional journey (I realize half my readers lost interest right here). In fact, the best way to describe the movie would be this: it is the dramatic story of Alex and his crisis of faith, with some elements of fantasy and suspense thrown in to make it a more enjoyable ride.

If this is your sort of movie, I recommend you go catch it while it's still in theaters. For those of you who like your drama unfantasized and realistic, it's best to keep your distance.

Caution: "The Order" is very much about religion and the Catholic Church. Many Catholics and Christians in general may find its views on God, demons and sin controversial or downright blasphemous. If you are easily provoked by this, I recommend avoiding the film.

Sean Flanders is a senior at Mayo High School. To respond to reviews in Sound &; Vision, call 252-1111, category TEEN (8336); write Teen Beat, Post-Bulletin, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903-6118 or send e-mail to teenbeat@postbulletin.com.

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