A young woman teams up with an occultist to attempt a dangerous but powerful ritual; in doing so they risk their lives and souls.
As our October series, 31 Nights of Thrills, grows nearer, I find myself scrambling to watch and review as many horror films as humanly possible between now and Halloween. As one might guess, I’ve watched a lot of terrible films during my expedition through the horror genre (“Puppetmaster”, “Silent Hill: Revelation”), but thankfully, this was one of the better ones. Because of the slow pacing of this film, I feel like this is more of a drama than a straight horror flick, but it certainly boasts plenty of disturbing and frightening moments, and it’s atmosphere is something that many horror films try to achieve and never quite master. I watched this film with my roommate and we had differing opinions on the ending. For myself, coming from a religious background and believing in God, angels and demons, I thought the ending was marvelously executed, and more than that, this film explored areas of philosophy and religion that other mediums were afraid to go. For my roommate, he wanted something scary to happen at the ending and wasn’t quite satisfied with how the climax was handled. I can understand both approaches; but me personally, I loved this movie. Near the end of this review I do want to discuss the ending, but I’ll be sure to throw a big “Spoiler” warning up before I do.
“Have you ever seen anything that scares you?” “All of it scares me.”
Sophia (Catherine Walker, “Leap Year”) rents a home in an isolated part of Wales and instructs her landlord not to bother her for the next year. Sophia then meets up with Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram, “The World’s End”), a practicing occultist, and asks him for help in performing a ritual to contact her dead son, whom had been murdered. Solomon agrees to help with the ritual, but warns her that her soul and intentions must be true or the whole ritual could be for nothing. Solomon also cautions that once they start the ritual they will be unable to leave the home, and the ritual itself could last months. Sophia agrees to his terms, and the two close a casting circle around the home. As weeks turn into months and the ritual becomes more intense, Sophia becomes frustrated that nothing is happening, and begins to wonder if this is all a game that Solomon likes to play, or if he actually knows what he’s doing.
I think the thing I liked most about this film was the utter seriousness with which it took itself; this is a movie about trying to reach out and touch the other side, about exploring what’s there, and above all: knowing that there is something else out there, beyond what science can probe. This film is wonderful in that the ideas of religion, mysticism and occultism are approached with grave seriousness, and there are lengthy discussions about the implications of what Sophia and Solomon are doing. There’s a scene near the beginning of the ritual where Sophia and Solomon are talking, and they ask each other why they are trying to contact the other side, and what they will ask for when they meet the God or Demon they eventually contact. Solomon responds that the reason he does this is to “see the architecture,” as in, what holds the world, space, and time all together. Sophia and he engage in a conversation about the correlation between science and the occult, and Solomon says that science only defines the least of what something is; as in, it defines what the object is, and possibly what it is made of, but it doesn’t define what makes it itself. That concept, to me, has always been a fascinating one, and it’s a concept that they explore heavily in this film. Another thing I really like about this film is that it doesn’t conform to other standards set by other horror films- this movie is about completing a ritual that takes months.How many other horror films have you seen about one harrowing ritual that takes place over the course of a half-year? I’d guess none. The pacing, the way that this film builds slowly (ever so slowly), and never really letting you know if the ritual is actually working is great because it adds another layer of tension to the film; is Sophia actually hearing the things that she thinks she’s hear, or is it all in her head? Could Solomon just be jerking her around or is he actually the real deal? The ritual itself takes up probably ninety percent of the film, but another thing that I like about it is that it never goes too over the top, to the point that Sophia backs out. I’ve never dabbled in the occult, and I have no intentions to- that stuff scares me- but, if I were in Sophia’s shoes, doing what she was doing for the reasons she was doing it, I would probably react the way she does to a vast majority of the situations she’s put in.
Now another thing I really like about this film is that it brings in a subtle theme of fighting for one’s soul, and it’s here that I’m going to throw a big spoiler tag on the review as I want to discuss bits and pieces of the ending. SPOILERS! You’ve been warned. So after trying the ritual and having it fail twice (both times take months), Sophia reveals to Solomon that the reason she wanted to contact the other side was to ask for vengeance on the people that murdered her son; she wants whoever she contacts on the other side to kill them and damn their souls. Solomon says he has no need for her to be moral, he just needs her to be honest, and they restart the ritual again. This time, however, the ritual really starts to work and Sophia begins to see and experience things. I suppose I’m in spoiler territory, so Solomon, through an accident ends up dying, and Sophia must continue the ritual alone (remember its impossible for her to leave). As she gets deeper and deeper into the other side- the architecture, if you will- she starts seeing demons and strange and frightening beings. The creatures drag Solomon’s body and Sophia down into the basement where there are a dozen or so of these otherworldly beings, and start to torture Sophia. She gets up and runs for the stairs, but keeps getting pulled back by the hellish creatures behind her- before they can fully take her soul though, Sophia says she’s sorry and a bright light appears from the stairs, and the demons retreat into the darkness below. Sophia climbs the stairs and is met by a beautiful angel (or God- it’s never quite said for certain)- the angel says something to her, but the voice is silent to us, the viewers. Sophia begins crying and asks for her favor- but she doesn’t ask for vengeance- she asks for the power to forgive those who wronged her and her son. It was at that moment that this movie transcended the horror genre for me, and it became about more than simply scaring the viewer. This is a movie about learning to recover from grief, about trying to find a way to live with the wrongs that have been done to us, and about the salvation that comes with forgiveness. For me, this ending was a beautifully poetic and redemptive way to end a rather dark film, and it made it one of my favorite horror films I’ve reviewed for this series. (SPOILERS END)
Though this film isn’t as scary as “Hereditary” or “The Shining”, it’s a film that is extremely well written and masterfully executed, and above that, it has a message of finding hope in the darkness. I really loved this movie, and I absolutely recommend it if you’re looking for a good slow-burn horror flick.
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