Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet
The Faith Community
Directed by Faith R. Johnson
Vicious Apple Productions
88 minutes, 2017
While I’m generally over the whole found footage genre, every once in a while someone uses it effectively, though that’s rare and far between. Guess which side of the coin this one turns up on, thank Jeebus?
|Jeffrey Brabant, Janessa Floyd|
On the car ride over to Camp Nazareth, we meet a trio of college students. The leader of this particular group is Hannah (Janessa Floyd), who is president of the school’s Christian club. Although opinionated, rather than making her self-righteously obnoxious like, say, Tracy Flick in Election (1999) or obnoxiously overbearing like, well, most of the present US government, she actually seems like a nice person… But not to the level that I’d necessarily want to hang out with her, or agree with her much. This alone tells you that something here is going to be different.
Her two companions are Andrew (Aidan Hart) and Colin (Jeffrey Brabant). The former is obviously interested in experimenting with religion, though not as obsessed as a believer, and the latter seems to be along for the ride; he’s profane and less Biblically knowledgeable than his companions. These two guys do most of the filming.
The point of the road trip is to hook up with a religious community that Hannah found online for a Bible study weekend retreat, but once they get there, duh, it’s a not exactly what they expect. The sheer “rustic-ness” (i.e., camping) of the group is only the beginning.
The leader of this smallish and cultish clan is a 30-year-old man (Jeremy Harris) who calls himself “The Messenger.” As for Harris, despite this being his only listed IMDB credit, gives a chilling performance with a mix of confidence, child-like exuberance, devotion, and… seemingly just a touch of madness.
Do I really need to say that things gets progressively stranger as time goes on, so I don’t need to say “spoiler alert”? If I’ve ruined anything for you in this paragraph, you need to see more fictional films about religious cults. Y’knowhadimsayin’?
Even though this release has some of the things I truly dislike the most about found footage, including running, pointing at the ground, pointing at the sky, and characters talking while the camera is pointed elsewhere, all things considered it’s possibly one of the better ones I’ve seen in a while that I can think of, at least since The Changing of Ben Moore (2015).
In fact, much of the film has a kind of fuzzy look that is often washed out in sunlight, almost like it was filmed through some kind of gauze. This gives it a kind of VHS feel, though I’m not sure that was intended. The poster of the film gives some idea of what I’m trying to explain.
There is nothing supernatural in the film, no great goat-headed demon rising out of the ground to rip souls and bodies to shreds, but that’s part of what makes the story so potent and chilling, in that we are dealing with mere humans with expectations of God and the Devil. What I mean by that is, well, I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Oh, Lord, protect me from your believers.” I think that is a bit too broad and inaccurate. A more suiting message that would be applicable here (and life) is, “Oh, Lord, protect me from your interpreters.” I only needs to watch modern televangelists to get what I mean (i.e., “My God can beat up your God, even if it’s the same God”).
The screenplay and story by director Faith (yeah, I snorted back a bit of a laugh at that piece of irony) Johnson and Robert Trezza is pretty interesting, but it is the acting by the troupe that really brings this to life. I wonder how much of this is written dialog and what percentage is ad-libbed, because there are some long stretched of talking very fast. I am assuming a bit of both, but it’s blended really well. Most off-the-cuff conversations tend to be clumsy, but here it stays where it should, with the storyline.
Most found footage is a lot of cockiness followed by the comeuppance of running around screaming, and while there is a bit of that here, too, the strength of the cast makes it work rather than be an annoyance. The proof is in the long shots of conversations or rantings that hit all the marks, and keep the viewer interested.
I also liked how there were a few set pieces of Colin and Andrew interviewing some of the cult members in extended Q&As or monologs that were as spooky as an action piece, such as with The Messenger, or Michael (Oliver Palmer). But what I also found impressive is that for most of the cast this is, if not their first credit, then one of few, including the director.
Nicely done is that sometimes the camera would be focusing on someone talking as something is happening in the background, and you’re aware that the person shooting it is just as aware as you are. It’s like, “Wait, am I seeing that right?”
Sure, it’s shot amateurishly (on purpose is my guess) with a single camera and no musical soundtrack, but for once it’s more honest that way. I still have an issue with how a camera can keep running for so long without being recharged, as there is obviously no electricity going on at cultville, but in this rare case I’m willing to forgive it for the sake of a rare, decent found footager.