SXSW Film Fest, Day 5: Paul Walker's Hurricane Katrina Thriller "Hours," "Holy Ghost People," & More

Holy Ghost People

Director: Mitchell Altieri
Stars: Emma Greenwell, Brendan McCarthy, Joe Egender, Cameron Richardson, Roger Aaron Brown, Don Harvey, Buffy Charlet
Running time: 95 minutes
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Score: 4/10

There's a compelling thriller hiding somewhere inside director/co-writer Mitchell Altieri's Holy Ghost People, just waiting for one final post-production stage to accentuate its strongest attributes while eliminating the glaring inefficiencies. In its current form, Holy Ghost People, to be fair, is an undeniable leap forward for Altieri, whose earlier movies April Fools Day (a straight-to-DVD remake of the 2008 cult favorite) and The Violent Kind—both made as one half of "The Butcher Brothers"—rank as some of the worst indie horror of the new millennium. Major problems are still at work, though, and Holy Ghost People misses its mark considerably.

It's a shame, too, because Altieri and co-writers Kevin Artigue, Joe Egender, and Phil Flores do some intriguing things with the snake-toting, god-fearing backwoods congregations recently depicted in Kevin Smith's Red State and the FX series Justified. Charlotte (Emma Greenwald) goes undercover inside the "Church of One Accord" in hopes of locating her missing junkie sister, who sent her a letter saying she's been living with Brother Billy (Egender) and his band of hillbilly religious fanatics. For some muscle, she pays ex-Marine Wayne (Brendan McCarthy) $200 to infiltrate their farmland headquarters alongside her.

Holy Ghost People is Altieri's first film as a solo director, and a lack of self-confidence, whether intentional or not, permeates the whole enterprise through the overbearing use of voice-over from Greenwald's character. It's narration of the infuriatingly explanatory and Captain Obvious variety that also sank George A. Romero's disappointing found-footage zombie flick Diary of the Dead. Rather than let his own direction tell the story, Altieri relies heavily upon Greenwald's unnecessary descriptions of what's happening to the characters, as if we can't see for ourselves, and quasi-philosophical ramblings that sound like a pre-teen horror fan trying to impersonate Ernest Hemingway.

It also doesn't help that the members of One Accord aren't the least bit intimidating—they're as menacing as a Sunday School class for adults. That unfortunate truth gets exasperated during Holy Ghost People's foreseeable conclusion, which ups the bad dialogue ante, features some poorly choreographed action, and inexcusably brings in CGI during a stoning that's on par with Birdemic's special effects. The narration could've been useful for that: "And then God, Our Father, rained down on me with Atari-like graphics."

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