Film Review: Holy Ghost People

Utterly suspense-less, noxious missing-person would-be thriller, overflowing with tired clichés and off-putting revelations.

Most indies seem to start with a road trip these days, and Holy Ghost People is no exception. What is exceptional, however, is its surfeit of lousy plot ingredients, any one of which—handled so clumsily and obviously here—would be enough to turn off any viewer.

After being decidedly bested in a Tennessee drunken bar brawl, Wayne (Brendan McCarthy) is taken under the waifish wing of Charlotte (Emma Greenwell), a waitress who induces him to accompany her on a journey to find her MIA junkie sister, Liz. They drive to a cultish spread known as the Church of One Accord, where Charlotte believes Liz is being held against her will. There they encounter its leader, Brother Blly (Joe Egender), whose supposedly irresistible sermons are delivered with full fire and brimstone and the flourishing of various huge, lethal-looking snakes.

What exactly is this church's philosophy? Those flashes of violence towards its parishioners, especially women—are they isolated, disturbing incidents or something far more prevalent? Will Wayne ever be able to fully cope with his (eye-glazing) bouts of PTSD? Where the hell did Brother Billy get all those snakes?

These and other questions are but a few of the myriad mysteries that are never satisfyingly answered by the script, which enlisted no fewer than four writers. At press deadline time, the producers released a new version of the film “improved” from the one screened at South by Southwest last year, in what can only be read as a desperate, last-minute scramble to salvage it. But what still emerges is a typical, noxious condescension towards universally dimwitted, inbred country folk who are exploited to the hilt for their "colorful," cloddish ways, as a passel of actors whoop it up with varyingly bogus backwoods accents. "That's Smiling Billy," says a dwarfish woman who is Charlotte and Wayne's guide through the church grounds. "God just stuck a smile on his face and called it a day!" Cue the barely stifled groans.

Egender, looking a bit like Giovanni Ribisi, is the cast's dramatic standout, wielding those vipers and windily carrying on in his pulpit, but he dominates more through noise than talent. The other actors are but mere, poor pawns of the shoddy material, under Mitchell Altieri's bombastic, vapid direction.

Holy Ghost People's best chances for any commercial interest would seem to be whatever questionable tie-in it can avail itself from the recent news-making incident wherein Kentucky preacher Jamie Coots died after being bitten by one of his own sermon-"enhancing" snakes. It just makes one feel sorry for those misunderstood reptiles, forever demonized even as they are being exploited, all too often in the name of religion.