Stars: Andrew Squires, Michael J. Tait, James Zakeri, Jen Nelson, Holly Fletcher, Will Fox | Written and Directed by Peter Handford
I have a love-hate relationship with British film, I’ll admit that. But it’s not all my fault, after all once you’ve seen one East-End gangster flick you’ve seen them all right? Which is why, in all honesty, I try and stay as far away from British-made films as possible – no matter the genre. I do make exceptions of course, especially for horror movies. And after seeing Heretic I’m glad I do – this is one of the best British horror films I’ve seen in a long time.
Made by first time writer/director Peter Handford and shot in my old neck of the woods, Yorkshire (in particular the Leeds and Bradford area), Heretic is an incredibly powerful piece of filmmaking that, whilst is a very effective horror film, does what all good horror tends to do – it uses the confines of the genre to tell a much bigger story. In this case asking serious questions about religion, personal responsibility, and the place of the church in modern society. It’s also happens to be a damn fine ghost story too!
Father James Pallister is a troubled Catholic priest who finds his faith crushed when Claire, a young girl he promises to protect, commits suicide. Months after Claire’s death, James is forced to return to his old parish and to the scene of her suicide, a derelict mansion house. Trapped in the house overnight, James is tormented by demons from his past – those that he has failed to care for in his role as an ambassador of God. With the house itself possessed, James becomes convinced that two dark figures haunting him are the ghosts of Claire and her dead stepfather Tom, risen from the grave to seek a blood retribution for the awful tragedy that James allowed to take place…
Heretic is one of those films that constantly plays with the audiences expectations, just when you think you know where the story is going, the script throws another curveball. Is this a traditional ghost story? Or a film about one mans descent into madness? Or is this a story of vengeance, in the most biblical terms? It’s not until the final moments of the film that writer/director Peter Handford reveals his hand – and what a reveal! Stripping back all we have learnt about the world the film inhabits, Handford rebuilds the story, to tell the true tale of just what happened with Claire, Tom and Father Pallister, before bringing the film full-circle to its opening scene.
I can’t say it enough, Heretic is really powerful film making and not just in terms of it’s genre content – that’s not to say the films horror trappings should be forgotten, Father Pallister is one hell of an angel of vengeance after all – it’s right up there with William Friedkin’s more famous Catholic horror. However come the conclusion I’m left wondering if Handford has an issue with organised religion as, when all’s said and done, the film is a damning indictment of the Catholic church and it’s trust wholly in god/sin-and-repent confessional “policy” – we no longer live in such a black and white society, shades of grey penetrate our lives on a daily basis, as the film clearly shows, and the church is increasingly out of step. That above all is the message I took from Heretic.
Easily ranking up there with The Exorcist as one of the premier religious horror movies, Heretic screens at the Bram Stoker Horror Film Festival which takes place Oct 24th-27th in Whitby, North Yorkshire. The film will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on January 6th, courtesy of 101 Films.