DVD Review: The Reverend
Review by Ben Bussey
“Poor old Job,” as is remarked more than once in this film. That famously upbeat book of the Bible is a common point of reference here, centring as it does on a good man whose existence is turned into a living hell as the ultimate test of his faith in God. I gather the lesson we’re supposed to learn here – assuming we don’t take it to be that the man upstairs is a ruthless, unfeeling bastard – is that we must stay strong in the face of even the harshest adversity in order to earn the eternal bliss of the hereafter. And I daresay that’s not a lesson lost on horror fans. We too must endure endless abominations, suffer through hours of tedious, incompetent filmmaking in search of the rare glimpses of celluloid heaven which the genre can afford us. Sometimes, the torture is sufficient to make even the most heartfelt genre devotee renounce their faith.
So, I hear you ask, which side of the equation does The Reverend fall? How best to put it… I struggle to see this film converting many to the cause of British independent horror. It may aspire to the heavenly, but it lands a little south of that.
To synopsise: a young, newly-qualified Reverend (Stuart Brennan) is assigned a parish in what seems to be a quiet village. However, what he doesn’t know is that he is the centrepiece of a mysterious high stakes game between two unnamed men in positions of power, one clad all in white (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), one all in black (Rutger Hauer); gold star for the first reader to suss out who they’re meant to be. The Reverend is to be subject to a test, similar in spirit to that of Job but somewhat different in practice. For starters – I’m no Bible scholar, but I’m fairly sure Job didn’t have a foxy lady (Marcia Do Valles) show up on his doorstep scantily clad and dripping wet, and not long thereafter find her teeth in his neck. Unsurprisingly, the Reverend soon finds himself with a thirst for blood, yet his thirst for God’s will is not abated. After befriending prostitute Tracy (Emily Booth), the Reverend realises things are not quite so idyllic as they seem in his parish, and that most of the blame for this falls on the local Mr Big, a pub landlord named Hicks (Tamer Hassan). Another gold star to the first reader to correctly guess how the Reverend opts to make use of his new-found lethal superpowers.
It’s not a bad premise at all; films that feature men of the cloth in lead roles are few and far between, and can potentially make for fascinating viewing, particularly when a very literal battle between good and evil is on the table. It was also a savvy move to litter the cast with cult film heavyweights, from the aforementioned Radice and Hauer (both of whom appear only in the first five minutes, so disregard Hauer’s prominence in the cover art above) to Doug Bradley’s marginally bigger cameo as the Reverend’s superior. But really, the star of the show is the largely unknown Stuart Brennan, also the film’s producer. He’s a good fit for the entirely wholesome, down-to-earth Reverend who suddenly finds himself in a world of weirdness, and while he may not command the same iconic status as some of his co-stars he does a good job commanding the viewer’s sympathy.
So far, not so bad, then. But the real problem with The Reverend is a lack of focus, the blame for which must surely be attributed to writer-director Neil Jones. There’s just too much going on here, with the deluge of bit-parts, and subplots that crop up only to go nowhere. Then there’s the problem that so much of what we do have lapses into cliche. I mean, at this point do we really need another scene of the central character researching vampires, and if so does it have to be in a bloody internet cafe? He’s a Reverend, for crying out loud; couldn’t he be delving through some musty old church archive in a nice crypt, rather than sitting at a computer using a rather unconvincing fictitious search engine? On which note, it would’ve helped if the local newspaper which pops up once or twice didn’t look like it had been whipped up on a PC. Particularly in a fairly low budget, DV-shot production such as this, these little details really do count, and can hurt the film’s credibility.
Given that the film seems to be striving for dark and edgy, Emily Booth’s character Tracy doesn’t particularly help. As most of the bigger names in the film are single scene cameos, it did come as a bit of a surprise to find that she in fact has one of the main recurring parts, and it’s ostensibly quite far removed from the sleazier, cheesier roles she’s (sort of) known for; and really, it may have been too big a stretch. Given the film’s frequent allusions to the Biblical, it’s no surprise they wanted a Mary Magdalene figure, but why make her also the host of a Goth film club? Correct me if I’m wrong, but do many prostitutes also tend to organise cult film societies? Seems rather a concession made to the actress’s real life persona (at present she’s the face of the UK’s Horror Channel). Some of her scenes are clearly aiming for harsh realism, in particular a confrontation with her pimp (a strange yet suitably nasty cameo from soap star Shane Richie), but they just ring hollow; not so bad as to prompt unintentional laughter, but nowhere near as effective as the film needs them to be.
Truly, I wish I could be singing The Reverend’s praises without reservation. It’s been too long since I’ve seen a low-budget British horror that really got me excited, and while The Reverend is certainly trying a great deal harder than some genre efforts that have come out of my homeland of late (coughStrippersvsWerewolvesahem) it still doesn’t come close to living up to Britain’s horror movie heritage. Oh well; much like Job, we suffer on.
The Reverend is out in limited UK cinemas on 3rd August, then Region 2 DVD on 6th August, from Metrodome.