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Police detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington), gains notoriety for capturing wily serial killer Edgar Reese. Immediately after Reese is executed, Hobbes is plunged into the case of a another murderer who seems to be copycatting Reese with scary attention to detail.
However Hobbes's investigation soon leads him to discover that this is no mere copycat as somehow Reese, or at least the evil inside him, has managed to survive the execution. Worse still the demon is able to jump from one host to another allowing it to kill at will and to terrorize Hobbes himself.
As the Battle of Wits between good and evil becomes increasingly personal for Hobbes, he must turn to a theologian's theories on demonology as his only hope for defeating this ancient evil.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Hobbes's only victories were that he prevented Azazel from killing his nephew and that he helped Gretta uncover some info that her allies could use in future battles with the demons. Outside of that, Azazel did exactly what he claimed he would do at the beginning of the movie.
- Beware the Nice Ones: When Hobbes has to figure out which of his co-worker's Azazel is possessing, it turns out to be his partner Jonsey instead of his aloof, Jerkass superior officer.
- Brick Joke: A particularly dark example: "Forgot something, didn't you? At the beginning, I said I'd tell you about the time I almost died..."
- Children Are Innocent: Hobbes' nephew, when he's not possessed by Azazel.
- Clear My Name
- Cyanide Pill
- Demonic Possession: The whole plot. Although not stated, it may be implied that believers can resist demonic possession (at least in most cases). It's said that strong-willed minds can resist demonic possession by touch, but not where the demon is loosed from their last host and within "five hundred cubits," or about a sixth of a mile.
- Downer Ending: Forgot something, didn't you?
- The End of the World as We Know It: Stated as the goal of the demons, including Azazel, called the "Fall of Babylon." Apparently by possessing humans they further evil in the world.
- Fallen Angel
- For the Evulz:
Hobbes: You leave my family alone.
- The Hero Dies
- How We Got Here: "I wanna tell you about the time I almost died.... "
- Impending Doom POV: Azazel's yellow-washed P.O.V. as a spirit.
- Implied Love Interest: Gretta
- Ironic Echo
- Narrator All Along: Azazel
- Nigh Invulnerable: Azazel is of the fourth variety.
- The Nth Doctor
- Out-Gambitted: At the end, Hobbes lures two fellow cops, of which one is possessed by Azazel, into the woods to a secluded cabin. When the demon-possessed cop kills the other man, Hobbes shoots him, but Azazel is going to possess him next. Hobbes is smoking, and reveals his cigarettes are laced with poison. Since the demon is only destroyed if there are no hosts left to possess-which he can do even to normally resistant strong-willed people within about ten feet-the Xanatos Gambit appears to pay off, Azazel will have no place to go except in his dying body. However, the narrator is revealed to be Azazel himself, who chuckles on seeing a cat near the cabin, saying "Ah, ah, you forgot something. See you around." Crowd scenes are then shown, with the implication that Azazel possessed the cat, got it near someone else and hopped bodies from there, going free. Earlier, another cop had committed suicide at the cabin, implying his attempt to pull off the same Xanatos Gambit to similar results. The Rolling Stones' hit Sympathy For The Devil plays over the credits.
- Promotion to Parent: Hobbes takes care of his brother, Art, and his nephew, Sam. At the end, Gretta becomes newly-orphaned Sam's caretaker when they go on the run.
- Salt and Pepper: Hobbes and Jonesy
- Senseless Sacrifice: Hobbes commits one in the end.
- Serial Killer: Something of a theme for the director, seeing as how he also helmed Frequency and Untraceable
- Smug Snake: Azazel views Hobbes as more of a fun diversion than an actual threat, and seems to think that he's free to antagonize Hobbes as much as he wants because there's no way Hobbes would figure out what's going on, much less learn his weakness. He later realizes just how wrong he was when Hobbes almost kills him at the end.
- Soundtrack Dissonance:
- You'll never hear "Time Is On My Side" quite the same way again.
- A less-noticeable example is the cheerful Wario Land music playing in the background right as Hobbes realizes what's happened to his brother.
- Spanner in the Works: A cat. Implied to have done it multiple times.
- Stalker Without a Crush: Azazel to Hobbes.
- Suicide by Cop: With a twist. Azazel possesses a random man on the street, who steals the gun hidden nearby and draws down on Hobbes, who is forced into killing him. The demon then possesses a nearby woman, explaining he can possess anyone within 500 cubits, or about a sixth of a mile, if suddenly loosed from his last host. Using this woman Azazel then smears Hobbes, saying he killed the last host without provocation, and the man had no reason to commit suicide by cop, so the media buys it. Hobbes thus gets suspended from duty, removing him from hunting down the demon.
- Unreliable Narrator: Azazel, the demon possessing everyone, is actually the one talking and this is revealed at the end. He's using Hobbes' voice because this is the last human we see possessed.