Review: Holy Ghost People

2014/02/13 18:16:59 +00:00 | Monte Yazzie

Faith can be viewed judgmentally from those not associated with religion, but for those practicing, it’s as normal as anything else they do throughout the day. Belief in a higher power, from whatever religious foundation one may claim, requires a large amount of blind faith. Though there are some religious groups that claim healing powers and the ability to perform miracles all meant to propose visual validation of faith.

Holy Ghost People, directed by one half of the Butcher Brothers, Mitchell Altieri, explores the more extreme approaches of faith with a film focused on a young girl looking for her sister she believes has been kidnapped by a snake handling religious group. Altieri, assisted by some convincing performances, crafts a thriller that is blemished by structural issues within the narrative though still surprisingly feels wholly authentic.

Charlotte (Emma Greenwell) is in search of her drug-addicted sister who joined a church that practices deep in the Appalachians Mountains. Before she sets out to confront the church, she enlists the help of a down on his luck war veteran (Brendan McCarthy) to play the role of her father in order to invade the religious community. Once in the church’s boundaries, the two met Brother Billy (Joe Egender), the charismatic preacher and leader of the church. Charlotte is suspicious of Brother Billy, though things are far more sinister than she expected.

There is an unsettling undertone that Altieri incorporates into the film. The environments are shady bars and dark alley-like streets that move into a maze of wilderness, and it’s a nice touch that succeeds in keeping a tentative atmosphere.  If only the narrative could offer some assistance to accommodate the settings, Holy Ghost People could have turned into something more intense and examining. The story is simplistic, perhaps overly so, and it shows in the lack of depth given to the characters and the foreseeable movements within the story. Films like Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene and Zal Batmanglij’s Sound of my Voice examine both the certain and doubtful positions of faith and how they affect those both within and outside the group. In Holy Ghost People there are opportunities to explore this dynamic and in some scenes, particularly a quietly tense conversation between Brother Billy and Wayne, it is achieved with great results. The church worship scenes, filled with snakes and a juddering congregation, especially assist in displaying the lengths at which faith consumes people.

Part of what keeps the film afloat is the confident performances by the cast. Emma Greenwell gives Charlotte resolute ambition while Brendan McCarthy provides Wayne with a protective quality away from the intimidation and violence he demonstrates. Joe Egender is very good as Brother Billy, giving the character a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” quality.

Holy Ghost People may play rather familiar for genre fans, but the religious approach is still well realized and the performances make the story feel genuinely authentic.

Film Score: 3/5

*Note: This review is based on the version that played at festivals and not an updated version that is being released to DVD.