Studio: XLrator Media
Director: Mitchell Altieri
Writer: Kevin Artigue, Joe Egender, Mitchell Altieri, Phil Flores
Producer: Jeffrey Allard, Phil Flores, Mitchell Altieri, Joe Egender, Kevin Artigue
Stars: Emma Greenwell, Brendan McCarthy, Cameron Richardson, Roger Aaron Brown, Don Harvey, Joe Egender
A waitress recruits a drunken ex-Marine to help her infiltrate a fringe church group suspected of hiding her missing sister.
In an effort to find a sensible demographic to market “Holy Ghost People” towards, XLrator Media perhaps misappropriated their “Macabre” label as a way to shunt genre enthusiasts into expecting a horror thriller about dangerous cult mentalities. “Holy Ghost People” doesn’t really fit that label, although it may not squeeze into a precisely predefined category at all.
Somewhere near the backwoods of Raylon Givens’ “Justified,” but not quite as far as the raging rapids in “Deliverance,” lies the world of “Holy Ghost People,” populated by underachieving career waitress Charlotte and alcoholic ex-Marine Wayne. No Appalachian mountain-set movie would be complete without a bible-thumping fringe group of Jesus worshippers, which is where the Church of One Accord comes in. With a poisonous snake on his shoulders, Brother Billy preaches the word of the Lord, and perhaps something else. Although Charlotte is not sure what that something else is, she suspects that Billy and his congregation are behind the strange disappearance of her sister Liz, and Charlotte plans to infiltrate the group to find out if she is right.
Joe Egender plays church leader Brother Billy. I jotted a note regarding how much Egender resembles Giovanni Ribisi, which reminded me of a similar comparison I made to someone in “The Frankenstein Theory.” Sure enough, I went back to check on a hunch and confirmed it is the same actor in both films. Egender does not just look like Ribisi, but he has that same dangerous dimwit stage persona perfect for portraying seemingly simple-minded characters on the outside, yet packing powder keg potential behind their deceptive personalities.
Egender is a solid performer, and he is good as Brother Billy. But either the actor or the character, one of the two, is missing a streak of darkly hypnotic charisma that would solidify Billy as an unlit fuse of truly fearsome manipulative power.
Although it was perhaps more of an intention that Marketing had than the filmmakers ever did, the Church of One Accord and Brother Billy are flat out not even close to as menacing as a real-life Jim Jones or a fictional Lancaster Dodd. Other than the vague inference of Charlotte’s missing sister and a hint of one woman possibly abused and held against her will, there are no overt signs of Manson-esque cult tendencies or Messianic delusions in their leader. The Church of One Accord is very tame as far as questionably motivated religious movements go. At most, they are reminiscent of an early People’s Temple, but are otherwise portrayed as having a misguided ideology rather than a hidden sinister agenda.
It is never clear if this direction is what director Mitchell Altieri had in mind from the beginning, but “Holy Ghost People” appears to position itself as a psychological thriller in the vein on “Martha Marcy Mae Marlene” when it is really a character study about purposeless people struggling to change that descriptive adjective. Although the perception alters by the end, there is not enough inarguable corruption depicted within One Accord to make them a hate-worthy antagonist. Intentional or not, the line between “good guys” and “bad guys” is never distinguished. By the time the tables are turned, there is little satisfaction to be had in the course of events when the movie’s emotional draw never warrants a complete investment.
As the story progresses, main characters Charlotte and Wayne develop sketchily rationalized motives for willingly participating in church activities that grow ever stranger. Altieri is weaving his own world of confused character purposes and perplexing people, but the viewer is left on the other side as those threads come together. The lack of clear moral message or story purpose makes for a passive viewing experience.
“Holy Ghost People” is good as a simple drama with some underground arthouse appeal to its consistent look and alternative take on straightforward storytelling. But there is not enough ambition to make an impact as a movie with resonance that can last outside the 90 minutes it takes to watch it.
Review Score: 60