Title: The Reverend
Director: Neil Jones
Starring: Stuart Brennan, Emily Booth, Tamer Hassan,
Released: 6th August 2012
Fresh out of seminary, a young Reverend starts at his first parish in what seems to be a sleepy English village. However all is not what is seems – the new Reverend has attracted the attentions of a local business with some extremely shady connections to a crime riddled local estate. But seemingly more sinister forces are also gathering around him as a mysterious young woman appears at his church and bites him. Our clerical hero wakens to find he now has a thirst for blood and tries to put his new strange abilities to positive use and clean up the parish...
Premièring at last year's Grimm Up North horror film festival, director Neil Jones' début feature now comes to DVD in the UK and is even hitting some theatres in the US. And like several other low budget features I've reviewed recently, The Reverend continues the trend for splicing together different genres into a horrific whole and in this case it's fair to say the results are somewhat mixed.
The Reverend is a very odd little film and it's first quirk come in the titles which inform us it is based on a graphic novel and the credits sequence itself is seemingly composed of panels from the comic. However as I soon discovered trying to track it down (I do like to read the source material whenever possible), it hasn't actually been published yet.
The second, and unfortunately more worrying, thing is that although a lot of the posters and indeed cover features the very great Rutger Hauer, and this cult icon has top billing along with that other genre legend Doug Bradley, neither of these esteemed gentlemen feature very heavily in the movie. Mr Hauer appears tantalizingly in the pre-credit sequence and never returns, while Mr Bradley appears twice at the opening and the closing of the movie. And as film fans everywhere will know, this tactic of giving star billing to well-known faces appearing in cameo roles often doesn't bode well for the quality of the movie.
Fortunately for The Reverend though, the real leading role is handled very deftly by rising star and BAFTA winner Stuart Brennan and there is a genuine horror icon playing opposite him – cult favourite Emily Booth as the female lead Tracey, a gothic tart with a heart. However there's a further surprise in the movie's cast with EastEnders favourite Shane Richie popping up in a supporting role as Tracey's incredibly nasty pimp Prince. Yes folks you read that right – we've got Roy Batty, Pinhead and Alfie Moon all guesting in the same film... look I told you The Reverend is odd!
Now as you may have gleaned from the opening synopsis, what we have here is a story about a vampire vicar who violently visits vigilante vengeance on the villains in his vicinity. However that's not all that going on, for this visitation of vampirism is apparently part of a battle of wills between the Almighty and his eternal Enemy, a modern day replay of the story of Job. Hence our good Reverend is cursed with a taste for blood and violence to see if Satan can break his faith.
So then with this interesting cast lined up and a storyline bursting with potential, you may well think all the signs are pointing towards The Reverend being another low budget gem. Unfortunately the movie ends up being less than the sum of its parts. Now there are some of the usually banes of low budget film-making on show here, such as occasionally clunky lines and variable quality performances, but on the whole these aren't the real problem. The actual trouble with The Reverend is that the movie never quite taps the rich vein the story proffers.
To begin with the story is somewhat geographically confused; we never learn where exactly the story is set. Now this isn't a problem per se, but it does become an issue when the cast is sporting a confusing array of regional accents. Furthermore, the relationship between the village and scummy estate is somewhat unclear, and to be honest I'm not sure why this den of iniquity couldn't have been part of the village or alternatively why the Rev's parish couldn't have been on the estate. Either option would have given the story a nice line in lifting the lid on the corruption lurking in the corners of society.
However more seriously for The Reverend, the vampiric and vigilante threads feel under-developed, playing off against each other rather than working as in tandem. The over-arching theological angle of the plot, which could unite them, is never explored deeply enough and, while intriguing, doesn't rise beyond the plot equivalent of window dressing. And these three elements ultimately end up delivering a somewhat lacklustre finale. All of which is a real shame, and has ensured that quite a few of the early reviews have delivered a righteous panning. And to be honest, I was considering joining that indignant chorus...
...However dear reader, as much as The Reverend is flawed, it has to be said that in the main, the problems I've highlighted above only start to annoy at the very end, at the moment when you realise the movie isn't going to successfully conclude the interesting yarn it's spun you. And although I can understand the palpable frustration radiating from the negative reviews, I've also got to say that as the movie was playing I was pleasantly interested, engaged and entertained. Yes, when I got to the end I felt the conclusion was a disappointment and yes, there was tonnes of potential the storyline didn't capitalise on – but at the same time for most of the preceding running time, I was enjoying The Reverend.
But while I can't heartily recommend The Reverend, I'd have to say that on balance its problems lie in what's not there rather than in what is. And considering how many movies, many of them made for megabucks, fail miserably because they only have half an idea in their scripts, I feel it almost a badge of honour these days for a movie to fumble because it has too many interesting ideas to do justice to. Plus I rather suspect the graphic novel, freed from the low budget resource constraints, may well do the story a lot more justice and will definitely be worth a look. Possibly it may well be the case that the story of The Reverend is simply better suited to the comics medium than the big screen.
So then despite ultimately being disappointing, overall I did find The Reverend to be very watchable and good fun, and although they don't pay off, the ideas and concepts in the story are pleasingly different and a welcome change from the usual rehashes of tired old horror formulae. Also the three leads Brennan, Booth and Hassan put in good performances that really help the story along. Certainly I can recommend The Reverend for fans of Ms Booth; she gets a good bit of drama to sink her teeth into for a change rather than just appearing to take her kit off. And speaking of performances, actually I'm very tempted to recommend this flick purely for Shane Richie's amped-up turn as the tweaked, twitchy and thoroughly nasty Prince!
Now considering that this movie leaves a door opens for further chapters, would I bother with a Reverend II? Well, yes I would – while it is flawed there's enough there for me to take a punt on a second movie. And although The Reverend can't be called an unqualified success, I would say that Neil Jones is definitely a fellow to watch. His début shows he's got bags of ambition, a lot of energy and interesting fresh ideas; I'm certainly very intrigued to see what he does next.