Saturday, June 7, 2014

In short: Holy Ghost People (2013)

I have been expecting the director duo of Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores aka The Butcher Brothers to one day make a really great movie. Holy Ghost People, the story of a guilt-laden young woman (Emma Greenwell) dragging an equally guilt-riddled alcoholic ex-marine (Brendan McCarthy) into helping her investigate the disappearance of her sister by sort of infiltrating the evangelical Christian snake-charmer cult of one Brother Billy (Joe Egender), and the rather horrible consequences that ensue, is that film for me.

Only Altieri is listed as director here, with Flores getting credit as one among four writers (also including Altieri and Egender), which, if you’re inclined that way, means that there still isn’t a really great Butcher Brothers movie. I don’t mind too much, though, and for all I care, this particular piece of trauma noir (this should be an official sub-genre) and Southern Gothic could be directed by the legendary John Smith, Esq. But I digress.

After a beginning that - as does the amount of voice-over narration –suggests a degree of post-production rejiggering I wouldn’t be surprised was meant to insert more distributor-pleasing exposition where it isn’t terribly needed (and therefore is the film’s weakest point) the story quickly gains its feet, and circles around themes of trauma, guilt, faith and the hope for redemption in not new, but convincing and highly interesting ways. There is a cloud of doom and threat hanging over the characters that finds expression in the film’s landscapes and often more subtle acting than I had expected.

Going by Altieri’s other films, I had also expected more direct and meaner violence, but am quite pleased to report the film never gets closer to torture porn than with two lashings (there are deaths though, if you can’t live without them). The more horrible things in Holy Ghost People really are happening in the protagonists’ minds, the things they did they can’t deny or escape from, and the insane religious bullshit they just might be willing to accept just to make the pain go away, or at least to give it outward meaning. To the dismay of New Atheists all around (as an old-style atheist, I’m made of sterner stuff myself), the film doesn’t point and laugh at the religious people, though, and while the connection between peoples’ religious convictions and their psychological damage is clear, this isn’t a film interested in making sweeping statements about religion and religious people at large. It’s about specific people in a specific situation, and any conclusions we might want to draw for the larger picture are our own. The film’s not here to convince us of anything beyond the pain of its characters. That it – and some fine performances by the actors – manage to do quite well.

No comments: