Religion or the supernatural aspect of it is a very common theme for horror writers and filmmakers. Rarely though is the final result little more than a rehashing of an over familiar story involving possession, exorcism and the like. Heretic from writer and director Peter Handford however is thankfully something very different.
The film focuses on catholic priest Father James Pallister (Andrew Squires) who is returning to his former parish six months after a teenage girl Claire (Jennifer Nelson) tragically took her own life after seeking advice during confession. Father James' return has been prompted by another suicide, that of Claire's stepfather, and it is clear that he is battling his own demons. As alcohol and paranoia begin to take over Father James must battle to save his own sanity and in doing so question his fervent catholic stance.
The debut film from production company Mod Scientists is a refreshing addition to the horror genre. There are certainly some very frightening moments but for the majority of the film Handford has set out to create a slow building sense of dread and intrigue as the truth about the fatal events is slowly revealed and the full extent of the consequences must be faced.
There is an unavoidable creepiness surrounding the subtle clues to the mystery that audiences will struggle to figure out and the final reveal, when it comes, will undoubtedly be a shock. With a production so small (an estimated budget of £30,000 and a relatively tiny cast and crew) it is essential that the performances deliver. Any lack of conviction or belief from an audience would have spoiled the aura that Heretic generates and for the most part this does not become a issue.
There are odd moments when the dialogue is a little forced but given the lack of experience from the actors and the tight filming schedules this can be forgiven amidst an overall production which will certainly give you chills. It must be said though that the success of Heretic is due in no small part to the direction. There are moments of real genius in some of the framing and the gentle, soft approach gives the film a naturalistic feel and really draws the audience into Father James' bleakly defined world.
Heretic is without doubt a hugely successful debut film and it will be very interesting to see what everyone involved does next. It is a real boost for independent filmmakers trying to get their productions made that something as impressive and professional can be made for so little money, showing that passion and inspiration are more important qualities. This is a film that should be seen by audiences and filmmakers alike and at the end, when all is revealed, Heretic also warrants a second look.