Pastor Bramford (James Tupper) and his family move out of the city to the deceptively peaceful town of Stull. Taking over from the retiring Pastor Kingsman (Clancy Brown), the townsfolk welcome the newcomers with open arms (even taking over from the removal team to help furnish the Bramford’s new home). Why even kindly old Mrs Gordon (whose almost 95 you know) has made the family one of her famous cakes – so good in fact that they “melt your tongue right off” pronounces Pastor Kingsman. (Not quite…)
This is the first offering from Slasher Film productions (co-owned by none other than Slash of Guns N’ Roses), and it also marks the feature-film debut of former storyboard artist Anthony Leonardi III. Despite their best intentions however, I have to report that after viewing this debut, neither came claim to come out of it smelling of roses (sorry).
Quite why Tupper’s Pastor Bramford didn’t do his homework on the town of Stull before accepting the position is at best questionable. Surely a quick search on Google would have revealed all is not quite so rosy in this quiet little god-fearing community? And any congregation led by Clancy (‘Brother Justin’ in HBO’s Carnivale) Brown must have a dark secret at its heart. Clancy is (as is sadly so often the case) underused in the role of Pastor Kingsman, but then again so is Anne Heche as the wife of the good Pastor Bramford (real-life couple Heche and Tupper). For a film that clearly intends to be character driven, we’re not really given that much to work with for any of the characters. Older daughter Rebecca (Rebekah Brandes) is given several longueur scenes gazing longingly into the eyes of hunky farm-hand Noah (Ethan Peck, grandson of Gregory), who rather worryingly appears a dab hand at slitting the throats of sheep.
Speaking of which, this film is not recommended for sufferers of ovinaphobia (fear of sheep) as Rebecca experiences a rather unpleasant nightmare of the woolly variety. Meanwhile, younger teen sister Mary (Jennifer Stone) initially has a run in with a rat (an encounter which the rodent will come to regret later on), and gets disproportionately punished for grabbing the first slice of Mrs Gordon’s cake.
The cake in question is just one example of numerous plot holes and unexplained threads which are liberally sprinkled throughout the half-baked storyline. Having been told not to touch the cake till the family are gathered for their evening meal (because mum makes such a big thing of such things), nothing is then said later despite the fact the cake has been chucked into the garbage bin by sheep-slitter Noah.
Once the town’s dark, black tendril secret is eventually revealed (in largely uninspiring CGI form) all character credibility is sunk beneath the black ooze. A prime example being a scene where big-sis Rebecca and Noah are driving hell-for-leather away from a pursuer only for Rebecca to insist Noah stops the car in order to get out and debate the ethics of running away – in the middle of the street- thereby allowing the threat to gradually catch up with them. I must admit I did chuckle at the casual callousness of how big-sis leaves her young brother behind not once but twice in the path of deadly peril – clearly a case for welfare services methinks.
The dénouement is somewhat rushed and under explained, and the conclusion suggesting a cyclical pattern to the aforementioned events raises more questions than answers. There’s nothing wrong with a film which takes it time to build atmosphere and character before unleashing its bag of bad things, but a film that takes so long to deliver underdeveloped characters, story, and largely uninventive effects leaves the audience with nothing left to fear.
First published on Fleapits & Picture Palaces.