The filmmaking duo known as The Butcher Brothers (The Hamiltons, The Violent Kind, The Thompsons) have ditched their bloody “alter-egos” moniker and released a film using their real names. Mitchell Altieri takes a stab at solo directing while Phil Flores stays behind the scenes as a co-writer and producer for the recently released Holy Ghost People. It’s clearly an effort to distance this film from their more outlandish and violent offerings, as well as the pre-conceived notions moviegoers might have when walking into a Butcher Brothers film. Indeed, Holy Ghost People should benefit from this separation, as it’s a mature, multifaceted film that can be appreciated by Horror aficionados and mainstream cinema fans alike.
Check out my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: On the trail of her missing sister, Charlotte enlists the help of Wayne, an ex-Marine and alcoholic, to infiltrate the Church of One Accord – a community of snake-handlers who risk their lives seeking salvation in the Holy Ghost.
Holy Ghost People is an excellent example of Southern Gothic filmmaking with an intriguing mystery at its core and several unexpected turns. Emma Greenwell (True Blood) is awesome as Charlotte, an orphaned Suicide Girl with a propensity for self-mutilation. Brendan McCarthy (also a True Blood alum) is outstanding as troubled veteran Wayne. Together, there are an utterly mismatched investigative duo. And while their reasons for infiltrating the Church of One Accord on Sugar Mountain seem straight-forward, both of them will find something else totally unexpected. Their relationship is complex and fluid; at first cold and adversarial, Wayne eventually assumes the fatherly role of his undercover persona.
Wayne’s struggles and epiphanies on Sugar Mountain are impactful and moving. At first, he seems like an island: Completely walled off and isolated from the rest of humanity. Unable to see beyond his desire for another bottle of booze, he seems an unlikely candidate for religious conversion. Still, McCarthy skillfully takes us on his strange and dangerous journey with powerful and compelling acting.
Joe Egender (who is also credited as a co-writer) is a standout as the charismatic and deceptive church leader Brother Billy. He’s an unlikely character; much too young, in my opinion, to lead such a large congregation. We learn that he inherited his skills and calling from his father who was also a snake handler. In this sense, he’s a chosen son, a Christ-like figure appointed to lead his minions. Egender completely owns this role; while I might not buy his character on paper, he’s completely convincing on the screen. While we’re set up to be suspicious of him, he exudes such confidence, kindness, and wisdom that we want to believe his intensions are actually pure. Of course, this makes him all the more frightening when his true colors are finally revealed.
Altieri’s approach to storytelling is so subtle an unbiased that Holy Ghost People never feels like an out-and-out incitement of organized religion—or even isolationist cults. Still, there are certainly clues to the hidden dangers afoot. Of course when Charlotte is literally knocked unconscious with a bible, the metaphor is pretty blatant: Religion is not evil in-and-of itself, but can be a destructive weapon in the hands of those seeking to exploit and control.
The Church of One Accord is a bit of a freak show—and not just because of their leader’s propensity for fondling venomous serpents. We are told that the congregation includes former inmates and drug addicts—poor souls that other churches would close their doors on. So while the prevalent energy seems harmonious, there’s an uneasy undercurrent below the surface. Sister Sheila (Cameron Richardson) sports ominous scars on her face. Brother Sherman (Don Harvey) is skilled at dispensing corporal punishment. Perhaps most haunting is Smiling Bobby (James Lowe) who’s bright countenance can barely disguise the insanity behind his eyes.
Altieri’s use of archival footage of religious snake handlers adds legitimacy and creepiness to this psychological thriller. The soundtrack is also amazing (best Horror soundtrack since Sean Spillane’s work in The Woman); with bluesy folk, country twang, and even a cover of a song most famous for its inclusion in The Lost Boys, it adds volumes to the mood and intensity of the film—definitely worth owning as well.
Holy Ghost People holds up very well against other films in the Cult Horror subgenre: Superior to Red State and similar in tone and execution to Martha Marcy May Marlene and Mouth to Mouth. (Not quite as good as Jug Face). The conclusion, while momentarily chaotic, shows remarkable restraint and even feels a little understated. Yes, this film has tension and suspense, but nothing over the top—and no jump scares. There’s blood and violence, but these scenes are few and far between.
In summation, it’s more of a psychological drama than a Horror movie, but it’s got all of the treachery and evil of a powerful chiller. Definitely worth a watch. And congrats to The Butcher Brothers for displaying remarkable maturity in their efforts to elevate the genre.
3.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Directed by||Mitchell Altieri|
|Written by||Kevin Artigue
Roger Aaron Brown,
Donald Patrick Harvey,
|Music by||Kevin Kerrigan|
|Studio||San Francisco Independent Cinema,
Found & Lost,