Review: THE HERETICS Needles Up With A Wild Second Half
In recent months, I have noticed quite the resurgence of a particular kind of horror genre. The horror I speak of is the cult genre. In the past, this genre was headlined by classics such as 1973’s The Wicker Man and 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby. Even in recent years, such flicks as Ti West’s stupendous House of the Devil from 2006 showed that this kind of horror can really take someone through the ringer, yet the genre never really took off as many thought. However, this year, films such as The Ritual and Apostle have received positive notices from critics and audiences alike, leading many to believe (including myself) that this particular slice of horror was about to roar back with a vengeance.
The road to the cult film resurgence now brings us to The Heretics, a ritual/cult/body horror film from director Chad Archibald, most commonly known for 2015’s gross-out “The Fly”-ish inspired film, Bite. Can this flick carry on the positive vibes that have been generated around cult films recently, or does it do more harm to the cause than good?
Five years have passed, and Gloria is still having nightmares. She can’t forget the day that she was abducted by cultists and then they all systematically committed suicide as she laid upon the altar. Now going regularly to a support group, and with the help of her mother and loving new girlfriend and fellow support group member Joan, Gloria is trying to put the pieces of her life back together. However, on the way home from seeing Joan, she is once again kidnapped and brought to a remote cabin in the woods. You see, something was placed in her body during the locust moon, and now, five years later during the next locust moon, that thing will be reborn through her. Can Gloria survive the night and finally end this nightmare, or will the terror growing inside her destroy her and become unleashed?
The Heretics, running at a scant 87 minutes, is a cult movie that takes perhaps a little too long to get to the cult stuff. The film tends to be a slight drag in terms of scenes playing out, dialogue and general atmosphere for the first half of the film, trying to establish our cast of characters with backstory that either isn’t interesting or not involved enough for us to truly care. The occasional flashback we get of the original kidnapping of Gloria, complete with the standard altar in the middle of a corn field with awesome masked cultists, fire and general witchcraft, are the standouts in the first half in terms of creating a distinctive look and ambience that the director is trying to establish. I was beginning to think that this movie was going to be a letdown.
Then, around the midway point, a wild twist happens (perhaps not a total shock, but it got me) that completely changes the tone of the movie and turns the needle up, of which I will not spoil here to keep the integrity of the plot. From here on out, scenes just seem to play out at a better clip, creating tension and actual terror at what is developing around the characters. Gloria and Joan in particular are rather complete bores for the first 40 minutes of the film, but as soon as that twist happens, they both get a new lease on life. Gloria, played by Nina Kiri, begins to undergo some sort of transformation into the being that the cultists want to have reborn into the world, called Abaddon, which is superbly realized through great practical effects, and allows us to connect with her and feel genuine sympathy for her plight. Joan, becoming obsessed with finding her reason for living, is simply the strongest character in the film, her arch coming off quite effective and the actor, Jorja Cadence, brings a sense of urgency and intensity sorely lacking earlier in the proceedings.
The only character that seems to suffer is the part of Thomas, Gloria’s abductor and played by Ry Barrett. While Ry doesn’t do anything particular wrong in his portrayal, it’s more the fact that he is left with the character that could have benefitted with more development and depth, and that in turn leads him to be the weakest of the three main leads. The film concludes with a final act that, despite a glaring mistake of leaving someone alive that doesn’t hold water when watching the movie, is quite tense and shot with a great in-the-moment style that does feel like you, the viewer, is actually in attendance alongside the mayhem. I also want to call out the final shot of the movie, primarily because it is framed beautifully and is quite an evocative image to leave the viewer with as they begin to form an opinion of the movie in their mind.
In the end, how does The Heretics measure up to other great cult movies, and is it worth your time? For that first question, it unfortunately can’t hold a candle to the classics of the cult genre such as The Wicker Man, and even has enough issues to keep it from the class of flicks such as Apostle or House of the Devil. However, The Heretics is still a solid movie with a lackluster first half but a supremely more effective second half that rescues the movie from being a washout to something that is well worth it. Great practical effects, an atmosphere that gets better as the movie progresses, and a solid turn from our two female leads makes The Heretics a well spent hour and a half. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but is anything really perfection these days? We get some gooey gore stuff, we get a body count, and the movie settles into a groove by the end, so what more could you ask for?