Studio: Black Fawn Films
Director: Chad Archibald
Writer: Jayme Laforest, Chad Archibald
Producer: Cody Calahan, Chad Archibald, Christopher Giroux
Stars: Nina Kiri, Ry Barrett, Jorja Cadence, Will King, Nina Richmond
Five years after escaping a suicidal cult, a young woman remains haunted by a ritual intended to bring a demon to Earth.
Canada-based Black Fawn Films and director Chad Archibald have steadily assembled a mostly solid slate of indie horror features whose hooks are highlighted by production values on par with some mainstream releases, undiscovered actors with actual ability matching photogenic appeal, and outstanding subgenre diversity delivering a different experience with each entry. Prominent productions include supernatural serial killer thriller “The Drownsman” (review here) and post-apocalyptic social media chiller “Antisocial” (review here). Although individual releases have met with varying levels of approval, even disapproval, from my personal tastes, at a minimum I appreciate that the company isn’t content to repeat themselves and continues trying to freshen up another formula on each go.
“The Heretics” doesn’t have the drive-in delirium of Black Fawn’s batty “Bed of the Dead” (review here). It also isn’t as viscerally nasty as Archibald’s body horror shocker “Bite” (review here). Cinematic storytelling is nevertheless pulled off quite competently. There is just a conflict in wanting to commend everyone for not biting off more than they can chew tempered with the notion that abstaining from innovation this time around leaves the end product a semi-straightforward demonic possession fright flick.
Gloria Farrow is still haunted by the nightmare ordeal of escaping a horrific occult ceremony. Five years ago under the light of a locust moon, cultists in white robes and wood/bone masks ritualistically cut their own throats, bathing Gloria in their blood while she screamed on a sacrificial altar.
The recovery road has been long, though Gloria has had her girlfriend Joan, an abuse survivor herself, along with her mother Ruth at her side for support. Even in death, the cult is far from finished with Gloria. It turns out the previous ritual was only phase one of a more insidious plan. A new locust moon now approaches. With it comes the cult’s unexpected return, as well as the unholy promise of their devilish dark lord Abaddon being reborn through Gloria.
Aspects of “The Heretics” often take from the same places where they give. Luckily it isn’t in an exactly equal ratio, so hits outnumber misses in the final tally.
For instance, Jorja Cadence bats a home run as Gloria’s girlfriend Joan. Her mix of Emma Stone charmer and Lindsay Lohan vixen creates a convincingly complex character drawing you in through drama. On the other side of the aisle, Black Fawn familiar face Ry Barrett bugs his eyes out so often to sell the consternation of a conflicted cult member, you wonder if he even has eyelids. I’m being glib of course. But there is an imbalance in the acting and some of that stems from fluctuations in how much meat the script offers everyone to eat.
An early scene of Joan challenging Gloria to choose between experiencing the trauma that brought them together or avoiding it altogether under penalty of not falling in love captures a compelling angle on their relationship. Other dialogue is less intriguing, often motivated purely by progressing the plot through basic exposition.
The screenplay’s structure also cheats to inject an air of mystery by piecemeal revealing backstory in backward bits. It works in the moment to make the setup seem less simple, though it doesn’t pass a sniff test after the fact. (Thomas could save himself a lot of effort by simply explaining everything upfront. And why would the villain capture a particular character during the climax instead of just killing him/her?)
Inconsistencies in these aspects are tied together by evilly eerie cinematography and well-designed sound using style to counteract coming up short on ambition. For B-movies on a budget, Black Fawn consistently constructs their projects to make scope seem grander than it is. “The Heretics” is another effort designed to be confined to a core cast, small crew, and intimate setting. Yet there are enough ancillary characters and open exterior scenes to prop up an appearance of being a bigger production. Genuinely creative work is in play to increase the film’s footprint in spite of inherent limitations.
Overall, “The Heretics” is a satisfying, if ultimately adequate, horror movie featuring cults, crazies, and a cabin in the woods. Even though it isn’t a standout in Black Fawn and Chad Archibald’s complete catalog, it isn’t a weak film on its own merit. Acts two and three could merely use more snap and more scares to avoid scraping feet when they don’t lift their legs high enough to maintain a tight pace.
Review Score: 65