Throughout their career the Butcher Brothers, or Mitch Altieri and Phil Flores if we’re being friendly, have somewhat sentimentally chosen to explore the motivations and feelings of society’s outsiders; lost souls who exist outside of the normal, conventional day to day life that most of us inhabit. Previously these peripheral characters have been vampires and killers but with Holy Ghost People the collaborators have chosen religious cult and extremism as their topic.
Set predominantly in an isolated community called Sugar Mountain the film follows Charlotte (Emma Greenwall) as she searches for answers surrounding her drug abusing sister’s whereabouts. Afraid to enter this mysterious world alone she recruits troubled, alcoholic veteran Wayne (Brendan McCarthy) through the promise of money for liquor and a few carefully chosen, and selectively false, stories of sibling responsibility. Together they join the congregation led by the fanatical Brother Billy (Joe Egender) and discover a group full of tormented individuals who unite blindly behind their snake charming leader. As they attempt to surreptitiously investigate while posing as wary newcomers Wayne and Charlotte, under a false name, begin to assess their own lives while struggling to find the truth.
Holy Ghost People is not a film containing much in the way of twists and surprises, or for that matter revelations and reward. It is however a slow burning, uncomfortable and at times intense watch, that follows several characters as they attempt to find their place in a world that seems destined to forget. There are no huge, showy set pieces, just the steady meandering of a story that, for many audiences, wanders towards an inevitable and unsurprising conclusion.
This is a film that draws the viewer in and sits them right in the middle of Brother Billy’s vocally charged preaching’s and while it may not initially generate more than a sigh and a shake of the head, inside you will be wondering how difficult life must become to fall prey to such blatantly self serving evangelism. There are odd elements however that some audiences may possibly find a little irritating. The constant voice over can become a little distracting and at times doesn’t seem to serve the story well, almost as if the narrative isn’t being allowed to flow of its own accord and is constantly being pushed from behind. The speed with which some of the characters switch allegiances is also problematic with occasional moments when you need a second thought to confirm who is on whose side.
In the end though these are pedantic criticisms of a film that achieves exactly what it sets out to. Holy Ghost People is an interesting and well pitched story of a quietly malevolent section of society that believes it can operate outside of the moral and legal rules and regulations most people impose on themselves and on those around them. The theory of being judged by a higher power is by no means a new one but here it is handled with subtlety and respect from filmmakers who appear to be improving with every film. Whether under their Butcher Brothers moniker or using their own names, Altieri and Flores have a flair for subdued, reluctant anti-heroes and quiet, almost subversive storytelling.