Movie Review: The Reverend / Cert: 18 / Director: Neil Jones / Screenplay: Neil Jones / Starring: Stuart Brennan, Tamer Hassan, Doug Bradley, Simon Phillips, Shane Richie, Rutger Hauer / Release Date: August 3rd
Debuting at last year’s Grimm Up North horror weekend (just two days after the completion of filming), Welsh director Neil Jones’ The Reverend finally makes its way to cinemas for a limited run this year and whilst as a movie it’s nothing to shout about, it’s probably worth a look for curiosity value alone. I’m not going to suggest you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this brutally low budget effort but there are some good ideas struggling for air here amidst a lot of earnest acting and muddy direction.
Filmed in and around Cardiff and various other rural Welsh locations The Reverend, based on a graphic novel which, to my knowledge, has yet to materialise, opens with a human-form Devil (Rutger Hauer) confronting God (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) and the pair decide to test the mettle of an innocent young priest just taking up his first posting in a quaint Welsh village. The story, purporting to loosely revisit the Book of Job, sees the priest bitten on the neck by a pouty young seductress who turns up at his church in the dead of night. Come the morning our hero finds himself craving blood and when he discovers that his picturesque little idyll is actually a hotbed of corruption, sleaze and depravity (and it’s not even set in Westminster) he sets out to use his new ‘abilities’ to rid the village of its undesirables.
The Reverend isn’t exactly a vampire film per se. Rev is hungry for blood but it doesn’t define him, it merely motivates him towards his new-found mission. The Reverend isn’t concerned with all the usual vampiric tropes - fear of sunlight, stakes through the heart; it’s all very much about Rev’s struggle, pitting his own deeply-ingrained religious beliefs with his new life as a powerful, bloodthirsty killer. It’s a shame then, giving the inherently potentially-fascinating storyline, that The Reverend is largely such a ham-fisted, clunky affair. Neil Jones must take the blame; he wrote the script and he doesn’t seem able to decide if he wants to make a blood-thirsty horror film about vampires or something a bit subtler with the potential to tell a story with an allegorical religious dimension. Jones’ direction is intermittently both inspired and inept; he makes his locations look disquietingly and deceptively cozy but he can’t handle action sequences which just look clumsy and awkward and he’s at a loss as to how to make static talky sequences look interesting. Much of the movie just looks like some hurriedly-filmed soap opera with muddy sound and unimaginative camera work.
Jones is sadly not particularly well-served by his cast either. Simon Brennan does his best as Rev but he constantly looks a bit lost and out of his depth and genre favourite Hauer, in just one scene, is clearly just publicity poster fodder. Best performance of the lot, surprisingly, is TV family soap favourite Shane Richie who delivers an extraordinarily-vicious turn as a foul-mouthed drugged-up pimp who, frankly, gets just what he deserves.
The problem is The Reverend is never quite sure what it wants to be. It’s not a vampire film, it’s not a horror film, it’s not a film about religious contradictions. It is, therefore, a bit of a mess although there are a few interesting flourishes here and there - Rev’s victims burst into flames - and the idea of Rev being used as a ‘weapon’ and moved around the country (suggesting sequels we’ll surely never see) leads to an agreeably-downbeat ending. The film is ultimately scuppered by its lack of focus and the fact that it’s way too ambitious for both its budget and the capabilities of its director. But The Reverend isn’t a disaster of biblical proportions and can charitably be filed under ‘interesting failure.’
Expected rating: 5 out of 10