A young British clergyman is sent to a rural village in order to rejuvenate Sunday service and grow the congregation which has dwindled to few old folks. But his youthful innocence makes him a target for an evil supernatural entity who enters into a wager with the forces of heaven: and so the young clergyman’s trust in God will be put to the test.
There is a lot going on in this film, but not much is happening. It is certainly difficult to know where to start with a review.
The film’s opening credits show a number of comic book panels (which actually contain a few minor spoilers); and the end credits confirm that this film is indeed based on a graphic novel by the same name. Only: this graphic novel is nowhere to be found. So either this is a fake-out in the style of Ultraviolet, only more brazen; or this graphic novel was merely a comic-book version of the screenplay and only released to drum up publicity and lure investors (as has allegedly been happening more and more in recent years). If the latter was the case, then the release must have been so small and obscure that the comic book cannot be found on Amazon/Comixology. At any rate, the film’s imdb listing only contains one writing credit: that for writer/director Neil Jones.
The budget for this project was probably on the lower side. But there was apparently enough money to buy glorified cameos by the likes of Rutger Hauer and Giovanni Lombardo Radice. Just before the opening credits, we see the aforementioned “wager” take place between Hauer (dressed in black) and Radice (dressed in white). This is the only scene for these two actors – as I said, they were clearly paid only for lending their names to the cast list (which may have been another ploy to lure investors). As an opening, the scene makes not much sense as it seemingly happens in a vacuum. The film’s play on the Book of Iob is already evident in this scene, but will be lost on a significant chunk of the audience. And because of that, and because we never really learn exactly who Hauer and Radice are meant to embody, the scene’s silly dialogue is lost on the audience, especially as Radice’s accent in combination with the echo of the chosen location makes it difficult to understand him.
And this problem will recur very soon: after our young protagonist has given his first sermon in his new church, he is visited by a young woman who is not as helpless as the reverend at first assumes. Again, the conversation between the two is marred by the accent of actress Marcia Do Vales in combination with the incredibly echo-y church – and not helped by the painfully forced “mysterious” dialogue.
For those who have missed it in the introductory scene, the theme of the Book of Iob is hammered home in the scenes following the reverend’s encounter with the mysterious young woman. For the next eight-and-a-half minutes it is not just repeatedly mentioned, but we see the reverend studying the Book of Iob, analysing and interpreting it for a whole evening, and later discussing it. No doubt this is all for the benefit of the large chunk of the audience who might be completely clueless, but it is just such an ill fit for our lead character who probably has just left university a very short while ago. And the Book of Iob is one of the few parts of the Bible even the worst theology student on the planet would know by heart. So our reverend might have taken the opportunity to briefly take a second look at it, but he would not have engaged with it as if he had only just discovered its existence.
It should also be mentioned that, all things considered, writer/director Neil Jones has gone down a bit of a cul-de-sac with this Iob angle, because nothing in this film or in our protagonist’s journey really resembles the story of Iob. Sometimes even an idea that sounds good on paper needs to be chucked when you realise that it simply does not work. But when writer, director, producer, and editor are one and the same person, the chances of such a difficult yet necessary decision being taken are apparently rather slim.
Another bad choice this film makes is the use of many voice-overs in which the protagonist directly or indirectly tells us what he is thinking/feeling while he is alone on screen. On-screen monologues are understandably out of fashion, and so some of these voice-overs may have been unavoidable. But for some of them other solutions could have been found; and some of them are just plain unnecessary and betray a lack of trust in the actor. Thoughts are near impossible to convey, but for any good actor it is more than possible to at least convey feelings. And Stuart Brennan, who plays our young reverend, is a good actor; and there is at least one short scene in which his performance perfectly shows his character’s feeling, and yet there comes his voice from the off giving us a rather forced and rather brief stream-of consciousness. Not only is this unnecessary, but the lines given to Brennan for his voice-over are actually inferior to the non-verbal acting he is doing on screen at that very moment, and so they ruin the moment on top of being unnecessary.
And since I am already in full swing listing bad choices: the score music for large parts of this film is absurd. They are guitar-chords that would be fitting for a Western or – in some cases – for a horror film from the Southwestern-Gothic subgenre. To say they are an ill fit for a film set in the British countryside would be an understatement. I am sure that there was some thought behind this along the lines of our protagonist being a bit of a “lone ranger” character, but that does not make that choice any better.
Finally, almost all of the supporting characters in this film are absolutely ludicrous stereotypes. It is so bad that some of them are not even up to “two-dimensional” standards.
And since we are talking about clichés – like Innocence, this film contains yet another of those over-used and painfully unnatural internet search scenes à la Twilight in which the audience for no particular reason has to watch the protagonist google vampires and the like.
Now, what are the positive things that are on offer? The cast is certainly good, but many of them get absolutely nothing to work with. We have Stuart Brennan in the leading role, who really deserves to be in a much better film. And we have character actors Helen Griffin and Tamer Hassan in major supporting roles, alongside Emily Booth, and they all get to show at least some of their talent as their characters get some room to breath. (The late Helen Griffin has only one extended scene really, but that was all she needed to actually fill her character with life.)
Booth is first seen in this film presenting an obscure horror film, which is apparently something she is known for in real life as well. Which means she belongs to the group of actors who have in part be chosen because of their genre credentials. Apart from Booth, Hauer, and Radice, that list includes first and foremost Doug Bradley.
I don’t want to spoil the plot itself, but there is a certain “cleaning house” aspect to it, and so it is difficult to understand why the second act ended up far more boring than it had to be. And because of the way the story is constructed, the protagonist’s character arc is basically concluded long before we are half-way through the second act.
The third act contains a final showdown that feels odd as the protagonist does not battle the main villain but instead he battles a substitute that is brought in at very short notice.
This is not a bad film. It is competently made (the echo problems in the two early scenes aside). It is well-shot. Most things make sense. The acting by the lead actor and the main supporting cast is good. But nothing here comes together to form anything resembling a good film.
I already listed many of the film’s problems above; especially the many minor supporting characters who are mainly walking, talking clichés. Another problem is that the film does not commit to anything. It is about Iob, but then it really is not. It shows some considerable gore at times, but not often and not much. It has a number of minor side-characters that come out of nowhere and served no purpose (other than to be killed off). It seems to be a lone-ranger-type story, but that does not connect to any of the other themes. The whole theological aspect is also wasted for the most part, and in the end only boils down to the fact that Neil Jones found it funny to have a clergyman as his protagonist. Imdb claims that, as a young man, Jones planned to become a clergyman himself. That alone would promise some potential in terms of theological “fun” that could be had here. But all that came of it was that non-starter Iob idea that soon fizzled out. The other potential that was wasted lay in the antagonists as well as the fight scenes. More variety in the killing would have been nice, and the antagonists needed to be far more genuine.
It all boils down to the fact that it is not Neil Jones the director who is to blame, but Neil Jones the writer. Everything about the writing would have needed more external input and considerable improvements. I am not sure if the film itself could have done with better pacing as well – I guess that if the writing had been better then there would have been a real character arc and the second act would have been less dull as well, and that would have taken care of the pace.
The film has a net running time of 83.5 minutes and so does not rob you of more time than necessary. Considering all its flaws, I don’t think a rating of more than 4.5 to 5.5 out of 10 would be justifiable. And that only thanks to some of the performances. But I’ll admit that I have a weakness for the type of “lone ranger cleaning house” story that this film seemed to want to tell. And I have no doubt that had this film ever come close to the film that Neil Jones was trying to make, it would have shifted easily towards a rating between 6 and 7 at least.