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In Association with
The Reverend (2011)
Director: Neil Jones

review by Paul Higson

Screening at Manchester's Grimm Up North horror film weekend, the freshest cut, direct from the editing suite, was Neil Jones' The Reverend, completed 48 hours earlier, and almost certainly in need of further amendment. Serious ear strain was an issue with some dialogue muffled or mumbled. Not the fault of the post-production sound team, Jones admits that they were miffed with him for pushing them to 'completion'. There was almost a confession that the film was not ready. There is some question as to whether it is worse at the beginning of the film, or if one attuned to it.

During the opening sequence in which the Satan figure (Rutger Hauer) challenges God (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) the echo on the voices, seemingly captured on location, are distracting. But these are minor complaints in comparison to the amateurish car-crash, nay, make that interstate pile-up of a movie, to come. It doesn't start off too terribly. How can we not be agog at Rutger Hauer, back to cool following his hobo stint, climbing out of a white chauffeur driven car, bidding a forlorn and beautiful girl (Marcia Do Vales) not to disappoint him, and dismissing her to her mission, before entering a great hall to challenge the Almighty. But the instability is there from the outset. A rank of angels bearing swords turn in the Devil's direction and dismissed again but the Busby Berkeley timing proposed by their movements is not there. Why even the show if the Devil is not a threat to God? And if he is not a threat then why the heavenly guard anyway, because if he isn't a threat, who can be?

Following his pulpit debut at a village church the Reverend ushers his congregation out to almost immediately answer the door again to the aforementioned girl soaked by the rain. She makes an attractive sight but following a bite on the Reverend she is accidentally impaled on a crucifix and bursts into flames. The bloke contingent of the audience will be sore at the loss of this beauty and that they have to muster on with this dull vicar. The Reverend has to contend with his vampirism and a number of prolonged shots and scenes follow, crippled by largely drab and burdensome dialogue. But still, at this stage, the film appears to be relatively accomplished with impressive guest stars and useful locations. Quality control is about to slip further though.

When a local landowner, Harold Hicks (Tamer Hassan) boasts that the village belongs to him, it comes in another overlong sequence. A car journey, it is almost as if the director has decided that they have gone to the trouble of setting this through the windscreen conversation up let's get our money's worth of it. The Reverend is not taking Hicks on, having already torn the neck out of a local hound. Extending the research into his supernatural condition he goes to an Internet caf´┐Ż on the neighbouring estate, which when caught sight of is clearly no estate but a corner of a city. A fake Internet search engine leads him to a local classic horror film society hosted in the backroom of a local pub. It is run by Tracy (Emily Booth) and the dialogue slumps even further as he begins to quiz her on vampire lore. Beyond unbelievable is what follows as she reveals herself to be a prostitute and cue her pimp, Shane Ritchie in epileptic pantomime villain mode, shocking us with one of the most ludicrous performances captured on film. Apparently, the pimp has no problem with his whore hosting a weekly gothic horror film club, but low and betide the bitch wasting her time having a quiet chat with a man of the cloth when she should be on her back earning for him.

The film has betrayed itself as the work of an infantile imagination. It is the first draft screenplay of someone who is still mentally an adolescent. The environment is about to get even sillier. Jones may inform you that his film is deliberately daft, a comicbook horror and the opening titles hint at this as storyboards are exploited to look like comicbook panels racing in and out under the credits. But the film is not comicbook. It has suffered a humour enema, meandering from one unexciting shot or scene to the next. There is no stylisation, just a flat presentation.

There is frequent death but each slaying is perfunctory, they may as well mutter 'Bang! You're dead!' The victims are scantly sketched characters, criminals and miscreants, that he picks off one by one, then picks up speed as if to realise there are too many and despatching the remainder in a montage. They are replaced by more cyphers to kill with even greater rapidity and ease. You completely lose interest. The only person to come out of this looking good, though she is always good looking, is Emily Booth. Bizarrely, in the Q&A that followed, Neil Jones exclaimed that he was surprised at how good she was. I think, by this, he was in confessional mode, knowing that his film was rubbish, and the real surprise was that anyone put any real effort into a natural performance, with real emotions, in his film.

It works against the movie because it sets a bar and everything else looks like a high jumper in front of a pole vault by comparison. The weekend after Grimm Up North, Emily gave birth to her first child so the British horror film may have to do without her momentarily. Fresh as the movie is, she may have been pregnant during the shooting which could have added to her performance emotionally, or knowing that she might be temporarily unavailable, urged her to put a little something extra into her performance, something for people to remember her by for when she returns. Not that the real fans were ever in doubt as to her acting chops. Contrary to the drivel she often appears in, it's always been in evidence.

The audience applauded and I looked along the row to the nearest person who returned my expression of querulous disbelief. These festival audiences are too polite. The filmmaker is going to learn the truth eventually, if he doesn't already know it himself. Away from the cinema auditorium nobody thought it was good, nor even salvageable. Damn poor show.

The Reverend

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