"Angel of Death" isn't high art by any means. It is however, a lean, mean, ass kicking machine, helmed by the extremely likable ZoŽ Bell. The feature originally had its origins as a web series that was presented in short installments. Sony has collected all of those episodes and presented them as one continuous 78-minute feature, which is guaranteed to please comic fans and action fans alike.
The series is the brainchild of comic writer Ed Brubaker and the whole package has an edgy comic book feel to it. The story is simple; Eve (Bell) is an assassin who would easily chew up and spit out the title heroine of "La Femme Nikita." She's ruthless, efficient, and knows how to handle herself in a fight; that is until a routine hit goes wrong. Left with a hunting knife buried deep in her skull, handler and love interest, Graham must enlist the aid of a coke addicted, but skilled doctor (played by the always wonderful Doug Jones). Eve survives but now faces a problem more dangerous than her former employers, her newly found conscience.
The storytelling isn't very inspired and that description likely left you rolling your eyes. It did the same for me, but rest assured, director Paul Ethredge and cast, for the most part, manage to make the whole ride action packed and fun. The biggest highlight of the feature is ZoŽ Bell. She's by no means an award-caliber actress, but what she lacks in classical skill (to be fair, she's improved since "Death Proof") she makes up for with a tremendous screen presence, natural charm, and a set of authentic action skills from her years as a stuntwoman. If she continues to branch out and work on her dramatic abilities, I could see her being justifiably compared to Michelle Yeoh within a decade.
Bell isn't alone though, supporting player Doug Jones finally gets to light up the screen as a normal human (most have seen him at work as Abe Sapien in the Hellboy films or as the faun in "Pan's Labyrinth"). He's wickedly funny and full of manic energy, precisely what is needed for a coke addled doctor. Other memorable roles include Lucy Lawless, turning in a glorified cameo as Eve's neighbor. I was a bit let down that Lawless and Bell weren't give more time together on-screen. I would imagine they have a natural chemistry together after working on "Xena: Warrior Princess" (Bell was Lawless' stunt double). B-Movie fixture, Ted Raimi pops up for a few minutes and provides one of the biggest (morbid) laughs of the entire feature.
In the villain department we get Vail Bloom and Jake Abel as the psychotic siblings of Eve's employer. Bloom turns in surprisingly good performance that goes against her day job as a whiny lawyer on "The Young and the Restless" (yes, that's an admission I watch a soap opera); however, Abel is absolutely dreadful and his scenes nearly bring the whole production to a screeching halt. His line readings are very stilted, despite the dialogue being very simple and to the point. It's a bad performance that seems to try and channel Heath Ledger's Joker, but falls way short; think of "The Room's" Greg Sestero as a psychopath.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is quite average. Digital grain rears its head and fine detail is practically non-existent. I spotted a few instances of cross coloration in a few outdoor, sunny scenes, but that was the biggest glaring digital defect. Since this had its origins as a web series, I highly doubt the equipment it was filmed on was from a big-budget production.
The Dolby Digital English stereo audio track is quite aggressive, especially during the numerous action scenes. It packs a bit more punch than expected and is generally crisp and clear. English subtitles are also included.
"Angel of Death" comes brimming with the goods in terms of special features. A feature-length commentary by writer Ed Brubaker, producer John Norris, director Paul Etheridge and star ZoŽ Bell is up first. The group has a great time and are the track is both informative and entertaining.
A handful of individual featurettes are also included and could have easily been edited together in one single making-of documentary. "Making of Angel of Death" is a nice overview of the production with a lot of talking heads, however, unlike most, the admiration the cast and crew have for each other seems genuine. "Writing, Ed Brubaker-Style" covers the writer of the film, both through direct interviews and second-hand accounts. Brubaker genuinely seemed appreciative of getting a chance to branch out into a live-action medium and is quite humble. "Casting an Angel: ZoŽ Bell as Eve" is self-explanatory, as is "Behind the Stunts." Last up is ZoŽ Bell's original screen test and "Eve's Tips for Killing." They are both worth watching once, but quite disposable. A trailer gallery for other Sony releases is included.
"Angel of Death" isn't going to win any major awards. It's a quiet little release that will likely go unnoticed by most. The target audience however, should definitely seek this release out. If you love mindless action and/or comic books, you're going to have a great time. It's short, brutal, and genuinely feels like a comic come to life. Add to that a decent technical presentation and a collection of extras that are longer than the feature itself and "Angel of Death" is a safe bet. Recommended.