Holy Ghost People Movie Review
Written by Michel Sabourin
Released by XLrator Media
Directed by Mitchell Altieri
Written by Kevin Artigue, Joe Egender, Mitchell Altieri, Phil Flores
2013, 88 minutes, Rated R
VOD release on February 14th, 2014 | Theatrical release on February 21st, 2014
Emma Greenwell as Charlotte
Joe Egender as Brother Billy
Brendan McCarthy as Wayne
I’m a little frustrated by Holy Ghost People. I went into it with very little information other than a trailer. It’s not quite the horror movie I was expecting; not at all, actually. It spends the vast majority of its time making a highly credible drama about trust, religion, redemption, belief, self-destruction, and guilt. Giant buckets of guilt. It’s frankly amazing when it sticks to that. Great, heartfelt performances that are gripping and believable portrayals of broken people just trying to survive thrust into a world beyond their understanding. I was caught up in it fully and could not wait to see how it turned out, and that’s where it went a bit south. The ending feels a little forced; like it was pushed into a darker territory than the story deserved. I really hoped the twist was more on the personal drama side than the macabre.
Yes, I know this was made as a genre film, and there’s enough in the story to qualify it as such, but it also could have transcended that and become so much more. The title and narrative theme, which I can only assume draws from the documentary of the same name and similar subject matter, lends itself to an outsider’s view into a closed-off world. Something akin to Witness or that ilk that shines a light on worlds few are privy to. The documentary followed a group of arch Pentecostal believers known for their use of snake-handling and speaking in tongues as part of their worship. This film uses that as a backbone to build a taut story of a girl trying to find her missing sister, whom she believes to be entrapped in the cult-like church of a charismatic but sinister preacher, played with such aplomb and appeal by the poor man’s Giovanni Ribisi, Joe Egender (I actually had to imdb it to see that it wasn’t Ribisi). It would be easy to understand the draw of such a man to the disenfranchised. She enlists the aid of a down-on-his-luck ex-soldier to help her, and together they ride up to the church as prospective members to find out what happened to the drug-addled sister.
Here comes the dichotomy of Holy Ghost People. In a standard horror movie, there would be the moment when the hunters become the hunted, and it would probably devolve into a Saw-ish torture and slaughter flick. And that would have been fine, if not particularly memorable. It would satisfy and deliver upon its expectations.
Instead, for a good portion of the movie at least, we get a complex and thoughtful exploration of how the broken are drawn into this ultra-religious world. It is a fascinating transformation as we watch Brendan McCarthy’s run-down soldier come around and start buying in. He stops drinking, cleans up a bit, starts attending services and you think the twist is that we’re going to find our heroes “drinking the Kool-Aid” so to speak. And that would have been an incredible and enduring choice.
By all accounts, the formerly sinister congregation has opened its doors and hearts to them. Even Charlotte, the one who started the hunt for her sister, has accepted that sometimes things are exactly as they appear to be. She starts to buy in, and that’s where it goes wrong; the story gets a little wobbly, and it starts to compound as it picks up speed, and then the axle breaks and the story becomes Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery for some reason, involving a faux wedding and eventually a good-old-fashioned stoning. Yup, that happened, and again, it’s fine. I get what the filmmakers were going for, and it’s not necessarily that it doesn’t work or play out honestly. It’s that it could have been so much more. It could have had some deeper meaning and social commentary that would have elevated it completely, instead of being another crazy-religious-cult-kills-people thriller. I really thought they were going to go for the next level, but in the end, they choose predictability and that is a bit disappointing. It’s a good movie, but it could have been spectacular.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screener.