The Heretics Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Uncork'd Entertainment
Directed by Chad Archibald
Written by Chad Archibald and Jayme Laforest
2018, 87 minutes, Not Rated
Released on November 6th, 2018
Nina Kiri as Gloria
Ry Barrett as Thomas
Jorja Cadence as Joan
Will King as Kent
Nina Richmond as Ruth
How do you set possession horror slightly apart? By mixing it with cult horror, of course! How do you then take possession/cult horror and set it further apart? Throw in some good, old-fashioned body horror for good measure! That’s a winning formula, right? Well…mostly. I’ll elaborate.
The Heretics is the tale of Gloria (Nina Kiri; The Handmaid’s Tale), who was abducted by a cult of pre-Druidic looking loonies. They committed ritual suicide en masse, bathing her in blood but leaving her inexplicably alive. Jump forward five years and Gloria is still haunted by her past, suffering terrible nightmares and attending regular group therapy with her girlfriend, Joan (Australian newcomer Jorja Cadence). She’s soon kidnapped by a surviving cult member named Thomas (Ry Barrett; If a Tree Falls) and dragged to a rustic cabin in the middle of nowhere. He tells her that she just needs to make it to sunrise and the demon, Abaddon (who’s been growing inside her for the last five years), won’t be able to complete the ritual by using her as a birth vessel. As the night passes and Joan searches for her, she begins to change in unholy ways.
The premise and overall story of The Heretics is sharp and original. By layering up that possession/cult/body horror sandwich, writer-director Chad Archibald (Bite) and co-writer Jayme Laforest (I’ll Take Your Dead) present multiple flavors of nasty to chew on. This does make it a bit cluttered in the early going, but once the latter half gets rolling, things clean up nicely. The early feel is that they tried to take on a bit too much in the narrative, but you have to admire the dedication to doing something that’s as unique as possible in a genre where everything has already been done.
The SFX work is practical, gory, and bravely shot. Aside from one glaringly obvious bald cap, it’s effective and drips with ichor and slime. Gloria’s change is hideous stuff, and the fully revealed Abaddon (both in mindfuck mode and fully birthed) is one to remember – the classic winged demon form with the stark white face looks killer. Gloria is more of a helpless vessel to her inhabitant, which does make her possession a little soft, but the way Abaddon gets in Thomas’ head makes up for it.
For a large chunk of the movie, though, it’s essentially two stories rolling side-by-side: Thomas and Gloria in the cabin and Joan’s frantic search for her girlfriend. The former is the meat and potatoes, the latter is the spice that mars the taste a bit. The way it unfolds, plot twists and all, makes perfect sense in the narrative but just feels tonally different. It’s a bit jarring but not a deal breaker. Once the two storylines come together in the cabin, you can almost hear the click before the dark and unapologetic finish.
I’ll be remiss if I don’t say that the music is generic and takes away from more than one scene. I get that violins and heavy piano are standard for horror, but their overuse can kill tension with runaway zeal and often ruin dialogue. Sadly, this happens more than once. Not only can every horror movie not sound like Hereditary, but not every movie should.
Overall, The Heretics utilizes a strong premise, excellent writing, and gruesome effects to create a memorable mash-up of genres with some rewatchability. Chad Archibald has a clear love and great style of body horror and is a name to watch. You could do a hell of a lot worse if you’re looking for something that’ll hit a different part of your palate.