LOADS OF SPOILERS (and a lot of ranting LOL)
This is a mediocre religious horror story about a small town with a dark secret.
The film starts out in a rather familiar but promising way. A wholesome and outwardly religious family stops to ask for directions to their new home in Stull, Kansas. The father of the family is relocating to serve as the new pastor of the quaint, God-fearing hamlet. Reminiscent of The Last Exorcism (2010) and Children of the Corn (1984), the vast openness of the countryside hints at a socially remote and geographically isolated Bible Belt society living under a patriarchal theocracy in lieu of modern government. And that’s exactly what we get.
Of course, everyone in town is hospitable to their new pastor, despite being a bit on the weird side. And, also of course, things start to get weirder…and slow! After a brisk start, the pace becomes sluggish after we are introduced to our protagonist family and the residents of Stull.
The introduction is acceptably tropey and features good acting, but sadly the scares fail to follow suit. The delivery behind a nightmare sequence featuring creepy townspeople and decaying ectoplasm-spewing ghosts failed to provoke even a flinch out of me. They may not have used loud noises to get the job done, but the scares never really connected; feeling ill-staged and randomly inserted. And, not that I expect or demand much in the way of monster originality, but the evil entities smack a little too hard of Grave Encounters (2011), The Apparition (2012) and Pulse (2006), featuring wispy black ectoplasm that creeps like a supernatural infection afflicting flesh and inanimate objects alike with an abyssal decay. Once our evil antagonist assumes a more consistent form, it resembles a mix of Bughuul and a J-Horror stringy-air-in-the-face poltergeist with its victims appearing much as those drained corpses in Lifeforce (1985) or Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988). Sure, this film borrows a lot and, sure, I’m okay with borrowing horror elements. It’s just that this film failed to pack any punch.
Further failing to elicit any interest was the misplaced plot device of an inhuman “tooth” serving as some sort of unexplained (and completely unnecessary) unholy artefact. This wasn’t subtle. This tooth was discussed a lot by characters and we see it change hands multiple times. This is the first sign that the film is falling apart before our eyes because, when we’re introduced to the tooth, it is evidently used as a form of “God’s hand” to choose a victim for a dark ritual…and that choice is made when someone eats a piece of “welcome to town” cake with the tooth in it! There are better, creepier and still easier ways to have accomplished that task in a horror movie.
In an attempt to create a dire atmosphere, we encounter lines like “Have you made the choice? There can be no mistakes…We’re doing His will.” Clearly the locals have plans for their new pastor and his family. A sacrifice…a possession…an infernal impregnation (i.e., devil baby), perhaps? Suggesting that some impending evil is somehow the work of God, nightmare sequences now shift to undead demonic sheep afflicted with some manner of evil plague. Like the previous nightmare, it doesn’t seem to make any sense. Sure, there are some Biblical plague references in the imagery, but they are sorely misapplied.
So, I have now twice mentioned nightmare sequences. These are the dreams of the new pastor’s quite attractive older daughter (Rebekah Brandes) and, it turns out, that there is no reason for her to be having these dreams! Nothing is explained, implied, metaphorically paralleled…I couldn’t even invent a reason for her to be having these foreboding dreams indicating that something bad was going to happen to her family—especially because she is not the “chosen one.” Screwing up the already scrambled synthesis of this messy story even more is that her nightmares imply that specific townspeople will do her (or her family) harm…but that doesn’t actually happen except for one indirect case. Some townspeople do poison the other daughter and, again, there seems to be no reason behind it at all given the events that follow.
Many things are introduced that warrant explanation, aspects of the ritual being a lot of them…
Why is a sacrifice required? What happens if they don’t do the ritual? How often must the ritual be performed? How do you know when it’s time to do the ritual? Do you always use the tooth to choose the victim? What if the new victims are gluten-intolerant and don’t eat the cake? Where the Hell did this tooth come from? A demon? What demon? Why is the victim later poisoned? Why does the victim’s sister receive warnings in the form of nightmares? How do they know when to end the ritual—because, YES, that happens! The ritual and the awful things that come with it has an “off switch.” Here’s a good one. If this happens every 10-20 years, how is the occasional death of an entire family (save one survivor who keeps her mouth shut for some reason) explained? Does no one (e.g., police/FBI/PIs) ever look for them and connect the dots that a new-to-town family (except one locally adopted survivor—as if that’s how adoption worked) is wiped out within days of moving once every decade? Here’s another winner. What happens if the surviving family members flee the town? It turned out that a surviving family member was used to end the ritual. What if they died or got away…demon apocalypse? End of Days for Stull…the world?
There are movies that get away with leaving things mysterious. The Shrine (2010) is an excellent example. However, The Shrine doesn’t keep dealing out things that merit explanation—so it actually works! Children of the Corn also leaves a lot to the imagination, but it does so flawlessly and doesn’t pelt us with seemingly important things that go unexplained.
The effects are fine, even sort of good. They’re just not “effective” in delivery. The same can be said for the story and other components of this film. Despite some capable performances by Clancy Brown (as the retiring pastor) and Anne Heche, this was a largely unsatisfying movie experience. While the idea behind the ending was okay, the execution was a bit weak—but maybe a “bit” satisfying as well.
The only thing that really worked in this movie was our introduction to the characters, the opening atmosphere and the notion that something was weird about this town—all in the first 20-30 minutes. After that it all failed to find any form of synthesis, urgency, thrills or concern on my part. The characters didn’t do things that made sense, they didn’t react appropriately to situations (yes, even for a horror movie), and I left annoyed by the things that weren’t explained. A better movie would have left me curious, not annoyed.
As if it made any difference, Guns ‘r Roses’ Slash was a producer on this film.
I recommend this to no one.