The Heretics, 2017.
Directed by Chad Archibald.
Starring Nina Kiri, Ry Barret, Jorja Cadence, Nina Richmond, and Will King.
A young woman is abducted by a strange man who claims that a cult is hunting her. His goal is to protect her until sunrise. While restrained, she falls deathly ill. As her friends and family search for her, the source of her illness becomes more and more apparent. She’s not sick…she’s changing.
Aside from opening with a dream sequence (please, writers, stop doing this) The Heretics has a pretty tight and reasonably interesting, albeit generic, plot. It follows Gloria (Nina Kiri), a young woman kidnapped by a member of a cult that tired to sacrifice her a year earlier. During her imprisonment, she begins to change, and a demonic presence rears its ugly head. However, this tight plot merely goes to show that you need more than some interesting ideas to make a good film.
The problem with The Heretics is that it has a severe lack of characterisation. Not because of the actors – all three leads are believable, though none of the performances are stellar – but because of the writing. Gloria feels flat, lifeless, and without any interesting traits, and Thomas (Ry Barret) is inconsistent, swinging between heroic and cowardly at the drop of a hat. Joan (Jorja Cadence) is more interesting, but due to her dynamic within the story, this interest doesn’t add any emotional weight or tension in the final act.
The film would be forgiven somewhat for this shallow characterisation if it had some other noticeable selling point, but there really isn’t one. The plot has been done before (near enough) and the horror elements consist mostly of jumpscares. The creature design is also pretty lame, offering neither originality nor uncanny-valley levels of unsettling visuals. I guess Gloria’s transformation is pretty cool, but it has nothing on the transformations seen in An American Werewolf in London or The Fly, for example.
To the film’s credit, it’s never boring. There are plenty of twists to keep you watching, and at least the jumpscares aren’t totally laughable, even if the creature isn’t particularly scary. But although it’s not boring, The Heretics hardly qualifies as interesting either, and will make you feel like a passive, emotionless observer.
Possession movies are a dime a dozen, making it especially hard for any one of them to raise above the rest. Films such as Hereditary manage to stand out through sheer artistry and subtlety. Others, such as The Conjuring, use their slick, frantic pace and likeable characters to tap into audiences’ desire for quick scares and digestible plots. And film like The Heretics… well, they don’t do much, and so get swallowed into a swamp of mediocrity.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
James Turner is a writer and musician based in Sheffield. You can follow him on Twitter @JTAuthor