Friday, February 21, 2014

Holy Ghost People: This is not Neil Young’s Sugar Mountain

Shouldn’t all those snakes be on a plane somewhere? Oh, but this is the back hill country, so these serpents have been provided for your worshipping convenience.  There will be a lot of praising the Lord, but not enough passing of the ammo in Mitchell Altieri’s Holy Ghost People (trailer here), which releases today in select theaters and on itunes.

Charlotte, the recovering drug addict cocktail waitress, needs help rescuing her not-so recovering drug addict sister from a messianic cult in the West Virginian backwoods.  After watching Mitchell, the alcoholic Afghanistan veteran get the snot beat out of him in a bar fight, she decides he must be the man for the job. With the help $200 in thoroughly crumpled bills, she convinces him to escort her up Sugar Mountain to the Church of One Accord, where Brother Billy preaches the Gospel for his cult-ish congregation.

Brother Billy looks a little nuts, but he has a way with words. However, he is a model of stability compared to Smiling Bobby, who seems to aspire to be the worst Dick Tracy villain ever. Everything about the place is seriously off, but Charlotte still manages to talk her way into spending the night, ostensibly as prospective new members. However, it pushes Mitchell’s nose out of joint when everyone assumes he is Charlotte’s father. In fact, the tension between the outsiders will grow steadily.

The first ten minutes of HGP has a certain degree of grit and the concluding showdown has its moments. Unfortunately, the bulk of the film consists of vaguely sinister sounding Jesus talk and a fair amount of snake handling. Frankly, it seems a little odd the film is still launching today, considering the tragic and widely reported death of National Geographic’s snake handling Pastor Jamie Coots. After all, whenever there is a spree shooting, every film with firearms is duly postponed until the next year the Rangers win the Stanley Cup.  Of course, there is probably a good chance you did not know a snake handling movie was opening today until you read this review.

Regardless, Emma Greenwell is not bad as the protagonist.  Co-writer Joe Egender has a real flair for fire-and-brimstone and chews the scenery with appropriate relish.  Veteran TV character actor Roger Aaron Brown is also a steadying presence as the not so nutty cult member, Brother Cole. Conversely, as Wayne, True Blood alumnus Brendan McCarthy looks like he was dying for the film to wrap.

Some might see HGP as an attack on Evangelicals, but it is really just a bore. Basically, it is hicksploitation that never gets adequately exploitative. There is some okay atmosphere, but the overall experience is underwhelming. Not recommended, Holy Ghost People opens today (2/21) in select theaters.