Directed by Daniel Stamm
Starring Patrick Fabian, Iris Bahr, Caleb Landry Jones, Louis Hertham, Ashley Bell, Tony Bentley, Logan Craig Reed
Screenplay by Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland
Reverend Cotton Marcus (Fabian) thinks he is providing a service to the ignorant. A series of bells and whistles in a pretentious show of faith, designed to give people the illusion of safety. Having grown bored with the game, Cotton is thinking of moving on into automobile sales, or, at least, something with health insurance. But first, he is going to make a documentary about his faith, or lack thereof.
Enter Nell Sweetzer (Bell), an innocent, naive faithful daughter of a depressed local farmer who keeps losing his livestock at night. After he and his documentary crew have a tense showdown with her brother, Caleb (Landry Jones), Cotton gets the feeling that he knows the source of the problems. He performs a fake exorcism, replete with sound effects, smoke and shaking beds, and then heads on his way.
Several hours later, Nell shows up in Cotton’s Motel room, 5 miles away. Cotton, feeling a
modicum of responsibility, takes her to the hospital, contacts her father, and tries to get him to admit her. Louis Sweetzer (Hertham), feeling a sense of betrayal, tells Marcus that there is no way he is going to subject his daughter to the same people who could not save his wife from her cancer years ago.
Through a series of steadily escalating events, Cotton is brought to the realization that even though he has trouble believing in demons, they believe in him. At this point, he is forced to face the lies of the demon with the lack of honesty in his own words. The showdown is further exacerbated by the threat of Nell’s death by Louis. The revelations happen slowly, and are applied like heat to slowly boiling water that consumes Marcus and the documentary crew until they are in the midst of something beyond their control.
The performances are first-rate. Fabian brings an exhausted believability as someone in search of something to believe. Bell, as innocent-looking as one can be, living in the woods miles away from the world, turns in a moment’s notice. Her eyes turn from alive to a vacant expanse of a body with more than one person in it. Her performance is the vehicle that drives the film. Landry Jones provides the creepiest angle as the brother who knows Marcus is a sham, and wants him away from his family. Hertham, provides the key performance, ironically, as the father who decided to cut himself off from the world. His decision was more prescient than even he realizes.
The direction, for a mockumentary, is more effective than most recent efforts. The angles are professional enough to keep from giving you a headache, and loose enough to give a sense of reality necessary to sell the story. The story, though, is the key. The director and writers are new to me. Judging by this effort, I will be seeing a lot more from them in the future.
(**** out of *****)