Studio: XLrator Media
Directed by Mitchell Altieri
Written by Mitchell Altieri, Kevin Artigue, Joe Egender, and Phil Flores
Starring: Emma Greenwell, Brendan McCarthy, Joe Egender, Cameron Richardson, and Roger Aaron Brown
On the trail of her missing sister, Charlotte enlists the help of Wayne, an ex-Marine and alcoholic, to infiltrate the Church of One Accord – a community of snake-handlers who risk their lives seeking salvation in the Holy Ghost.
I love horror that delves into religion, especially in extreme versions of Christianity. Snake-handling is a real thing where I live in Kentucky. I’m fortunate to live in Lexington, a civilized city, but a 30 minute drive in any direction might put you closer to real snake-handlers. Much like the Church of One Accord in this film, local churches that practice this confused tradition, exist in the hollows and mountains under a hushed tone. These are not churches you randomly stumble into on Sunday morning. The practice of snake-handling is mentioned in the Bible, and that’s enough for these misguided believers to secure their platform. The Bible states:
Mark 16:18 – They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
Yeah, so, anyone with a basic knowledge of the Bible knows this verse is meant to be used in a purely metaphoric fashion. The verse means if you are strong in faith, God’s power will surround you, permeate you, and give you protection from adversity. It does not mean go pick up snakes. I believe God can do anything He chooses for me. I also believe He expects me to walk through life as an educated and faithful person. God has never asked me to pick up a venomous snake. Never. As you can see, this is an amazing place to start a southern Gothic tale.
Charlotte (Greenwell) believes her sister has moved into the communal home of a local church called the Church of One Accord. The church uses poisonous snakes in its worship service, offering every kind of venomous snake you can imagine, including a nasty guy named, what else, Satan, because he’s so “mean and nasty”. Factor in the creepy communal living in what I assume is Louisiana or maybe Tennessee, and you have a nice setting for a hot and muggy southern Gothic thriller. Assisting Charlotte is Wayne (McCarthy) an ex-Marine with a chip on his shoulder against life in general. The two decide to move into the commune so Charlotte can find her missing sister. They instantly ping the radar of the church leader, Brother Billy (Egender), a charismatic leader that you could probably compare to David Koresh or Jim Jones.
I was instantly drawn to this film. Like I mentioned before, horror and religion are my peanut butter and chocolate. The muggy atmosphere and relative seclusion drew me into the environment and reminded me of the low-lying fog on my childhood trips to the Bluegrass. The mystery surrounding Charlotte’s sister creeps and grows as the movie progresses, and made me uneasy the entire running time. As much as you can’t wait to find the answers, part of me didn’t want to know. Holy Ghost People was filmed with flair, adding nervous tension to nearly every scene. I watched this with a hyper-sensitive sense of terror. I expected a demon, Satan himself, or any number of insane supernatural experiences to ooze out into my living room. Not knowing what to expect makes a film of this nature that much more terrifying.
The acting, especially McCarthy, Egender, and Greenwell, is fantastic. Charlotte’s obsessed wish to find the truth is dissected by Brother Billy as he digs deeper into his newest member’s secrets. Setting is everything, and the set dressing was perfect for this film. The script flows well with the exception of a sort of disintegrating narrative in the third act. All things considered, I can overlook that since the ending made me think. The film builds to a bizarre climax that’s as much internal as external. The film drifts through feelings of guilt, family, and shame, perfect for a church of snake-handlers.
You can check out Holy Ghost People via VOD beginning 2/18, and it opens theatrically on 2/21. This is worth checking out on VOD if you can’t make it out. Horror fans with a love of religion should check this out.