Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Heretics and Choice (When to Say No to Demon Sex): A Film Review

*full disclosure: an online screener was provided by the film's pr' firm.

Direct: Chad Archibald.

Writer: Jayme Laforest.

Cast: Nina Kiri, Ry Barret, Jorja Cadence, Nina Richmond and Will King.

Black Fawn Films is likely the biggest Canadian indie horror film producer. This film company has completed at least eight titles, in just a few years. Their latest is titled The Heretics and it was written by Jayme Laforest, who also wrote 2015's Bite. Both films deal with body horror and a female protagonist. This title incorporates one of the worst sex scenes, in recent film history. Always say no to demon sex, no matter how attractive the offer is. The story, within the film, deals with the birth of a demon - Abaddon and his desire to end the world. Similar to Jon Knautz's The Shrine (2011), characters are overcome through possession. In The Heretics, this reduces the protagonist's ability to resist evil. Gloria (Nina Kiri) is just a vessel for evil; she has no actual agency. Still, The Heretics manages to develop a compelling story, in which makeup effects amplify the horror onscreen.

The Heretics offers a new type of demonic sexually transmitted disease. And, this title brings one of the most disturbing romantic scenes, to screen. Doubting Thomas (Ry Barrett), the slightly incompetent hero of the film, is tempted by a horned-up Gloria. In a remote cabin, they get down to business. But, this viewer wished they had not. By the third act, Gloria is barely recognizable with goop spouting out of every pore. Still, Thomas soldiers on and undresses anyway. Much like an unexpected date with a Thai ladyboy, Gloria is not who she appears to be. The demon Abaddon is making the moves on Thomas. And, this scene will give viewers' chills as Abaddon reveals himself, with a horrifying shout and sly smile. This is a worst-case scenario sexual encounter, which would shake most to the core. For Thomas, it is just another night spent with the denizens of Hell.

To develop the story more, The Heretics deals with demonic possession. The initial scene shows how Gloria is turned into an unwilling demonic surrogate. Several cult members off themselves in a sacrificial scene, to complete a Devilish ritual. Gloria carries on with her life, with help from group therapy, not much later. But, there is something growing inside her. Later, she also meets a love interest, Joan (Jorja Cadence). They seem happy. But, not everyone is being honest. Gloria finds herself hounded by the cult, from the earlier scene, while Thomas attempts to protect her. If Thomas and Gloria can wait out the night - in an isolated cabin, then she will not give birth to a winged monster. I they fail, she will change into Abaddon, the Lord of Locusts. Thus, the conflict between good and evil rages on, mostly through costume design and makeup effects.

This viewer was reminded of another horror film, while watching The Heretics. Jon Knautz's second feature film, The Shrine (2011), deals with similar themes, characters and settings. In both films, female characters are struggling with demonic possession. Certain characters do a better job of warding off evil, compared to others though. As well, both films have a demonic villain, which terrorizes the protagonist. The demon, in The Shrine, is slightly more off-center and on the periphery, when compared to The Heretics. As well, both films are centrally situated in a rural setting. Here, the demons have more room to torment other characters. This reviewer could not find a direct connection, in the cast nor crew, between these two films, but it is possible that Knautz's earlier title has influenced the one found here.

There was only one film or character element that this viewer did not enjoy. Gloria, the protagonist, has no agency in the events unfolding onscreen. She is merely a womb puppet for evil forces. Much like the rope in a game of tug-of-war, this central character is simply pulled back and forth between other characters. At no point does she have an opportunity to say no to the demonic manipulations. Or, if more tempted by the immortality and power that evil has to offer - in the film, she has no chance to say yes to demonic impregnation. Without choice, Gloria does not truly struggle with a moral choice. Instead, she simply devolves into something hideous. This character is too passive in relation to the events onscreen.

This film fan enjoyed The Heretics. The film is already on a worldwide film festival tour. It recently had its World Premiere, in Toronto, at the Canadian Film Festival. It will likely show at a screening near you, before moving to home entertainment platforms. This horror fan recommends that you get out to a showing. The Heretics offers great body horror as Gloria transforms from something beautiful into something balder and slimier. The acting is compelling, with Barrett offering another solid performance here. Also, there is a a blend of Paganism with Catholicism in the film, which slightly muddies the film's mythos. Still, there are a few frights to be had along the way. One romantic scene is one of true horror. And, if you liked Knautz's The Shrine, then you will like this feature, too. Gloria is too passive. However, there is a great deal of conflict and action in the film, which this viewer liked. You can see the film throughout the Summer and into 2018 as The Heretics spreads its dark wings, worldwide.

Overall: 7.5 out of 10.

A trailer for The Heretics is here: A The Heretics Trailer on 28DLA

28DLA writer Ed Sum reviews The Shrine here, from the 2011 Victoria Film Fest': The Shrine Reviewed on 28DLA (2011)

Also from Black Fawn Films:

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