Creepy Religious Drama Misdiagnosed As A Horror-style Quickie
Apr 3, 2014
Erm … it’s been my experience that the “Macabre” series of films released by XLrator Media have usually been accessible horror flicks. Am I wrong? Sure, there have been one or two that were less obvious about the genre, but all that I can recall seeing clearly were striving for that certain feel, that certain texture one naturally associates with a quality ‘fright.’ Either that, or there was a central character or two who served to elevate an ordinary scare to an extraordinary level in much the same way one generally expects from horror, slasher, or monster pictures. HOLY GHOST doesn’t really have any of those usual traits. Granted, it does have an overwhelming atmosphere of dread. It also has a few snakes. Otherwise, this is more of a Gothic drama than anything else.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Charlotte (played by a fetching Emma Greenwell) is a little city gal trapped in a dead-end life. All that’s left of her family – a sister – has disappeared into the Appalachian Moutains, rumored to have become part of the cult-like Church of the Single Accord. The congregation is run by the mysterious Brother Billy (a stellar performance by Joe Egender), whom she’s unwilling to go up against by herself. When she enlists the help of Wayne (Brendan McCarthy), a veteran of Afghanistan who’s suffering from PTSD, she believes she can go in and find her sibling. What she finds waiting for her is an even darker secret she’s kept from everyone.
Here’s the thing about characters with hidden agendas: audiences struggle with them. Why? Well, when you’re dealing with both protagonists and antagonists motivated by agendas not announced in the film, then you’re left guessing as to which moments in the story (as well as in their respective performances) are authentic or not. When motivations are kept secret until late in the film, then all of the players have to make certain that everything before that big reveal is absolutely perfect in tone and execution so that the audience isn’t left confused.
HOLY GHOST PEOPLE struggles in that regard, and I think it struggled so much because everyone in here is acting out of fully unexplained motivations. We’re given hints as to what makes each of them tick – one is dealing with the aftermath of a war-torn experience that’s forcing him to self-destruct; one is dealing with matters of personal shame driving her to acts of great jeopardy; etc. – but we’re never given full disclosure probably because it wouldn’t serve the story that writer/director Mitchell Altieri wanted told here. As such, the scraps doled out don’t go far enough to establishing what’s clearly going on in the minds of each and every player, and I found it increasingly difficult to reconcile the notions of good, evil, right, and wrong at the core of the various psychological match-ups.
Still, Altieri went to great pains to craft an atmosphere of dread into the picture as well as each of his players, and that’s something that works surprisingly well despite the existence of any logical explanation. For example, both Wayne and Brother Billy say “they know one another”; what’s implied is that they can see one another for what they are, and they’re not buying into any of the otherwise professed signals implying that they’re something they’re not (Brother Billy tries to convince people that he’s good; Wayne tries to convince everyone that he’s unattached to this world; etc.). This dynamic works about as well as it can given the story’s limited scope; while I would rather have spent more time exploring the characters of Sheila and Brother Sherman, they just didn’t quite ‘fit’ into the narrative’s allotted time.
The end result is that much of HOLY GHOST PEOPLE feels more like a chess match than it does a legitimate movie. Each character is jockeying for a space on the board, and it’s certainly done well enough to keep my interest for 90 minutes. Still, I can’t help wondering ‘why’ they wanted the spaces they wanted; that’s typically where dramas of this nature excel, but PEOPLE didn’t.
HOLY GHOST PEOPLE (2013) is produced by Found & Lost Productions, Indie Entertainment, and San Francisco Independent Cinema. DVD distribution is being handled through XLrator Media. As for the technical specifications, this is one largely well-made film, offering up some great quality sights and sounds alongside some impressive cinematography. Sadly, if it’s special features you’re looking for, then all you have here a some deleted scenes, and – so far as I’m concerned – that’s a big miss: I definitely would’ve liked to know a bit more about this story and these characters, as I hope I’ve made clear from the above dissection.
RECOMMENDED. Relentlessly creepy with only occasionally weird directorial flourishes, HOLY GHOST PEOPLE is an incomplete meal: you were given a quality appetizer, and then the main course smelled delightful, but somebody took it away before you were finished! While one might easily argue that the story supplied all of the answers needed, I’d counter that I was still hungry. Too much time was spent on establishing atmosphere and not enough on clearly explaining A, B, and C. Definitely worth a view, but it lacks any solid return quality.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at XLrator Media provided me with a DVD copy of HOLY GHOST PEOPLE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.