Written and directed by Peter Handford
When Claire Russell, a local teenage girl parishioner, commits suicide, a distraught Father James Pallister leaves his church in the capable hands of Father William O’Neill and disappears for six months. With the news of the death of Claire’s step-father Tom Carlisle, Father Pallister returns to the parish for the funeral but his whereabouts during the six month disappearance raise questions in the mind of Father O’Neill.
With two deaths on his mind, Father Pallister turns to drink and stumbles into the abandoned Russell home on his way home from the pub. After snooping around, he attempts to leave, only to find the door locked and two sinister looking characters outside…
HERETIC is the debut feature film from director and writer, Peter Handford, which was shot in the Leeds and Bradford area with producer Bethany Clift and their team. This independent British horror focuses on Father Pallister, his religious beliefs and approach towards his parishioners who confess to him their sins and ask for guidance. Initially, we are unsure of the amount of knowledge Father Pallister has of the problems Claire Russell is dealing with, but slowly the tight-knit ball unravels to show what really is lurking inside.
With a terrific script, Handford builds up the personality of his characters, with the audience recognising early on that Father Pallister’s faith and responsibility is a bit off-kilter. The way in which he reacts to parishioner Mel, who confides in him that she has had sex out of wedlock and is pregnant, causes concern in the viewers mind. Father O’Neill acts as a great contrast as we compare the two and their different approach to their vocation.
After Father Pallister becomes trapped inside the Russell family home, with the door locked and all the windows boarded shut, his guilty conscience begins to plague him, along with two strangers outside who seem to have malicious intent. Like Father Pallister, we too are trapped inside the home of Claire Russell, not knowing what evil lurks outside…or inside, for that matter. As time ticks by, the mounting tension builds up into an explosion of thoughts, feelings and actions, revealing just what secrets Father Pallister was keeping and who the hooded maleficentfigure outside is.
The cast may only be small but the performances on screen are thankfully very strong, with much of the screentime dependent on the actors ability to convince the viewer without revealing too much before they’re supposed to. Andrew Squires takes the lead as Father Pallister, the troubled priest, with Jamez Zaken as Father O’Neill, his more modern, relaxed counterpart. Enthusiastic Mel (Jodie McEnery) helps at the church though problems of her own force her to seek out Father Pallister, who’s less than understanding of her situation. Jen Nelson stars as Claire Russell, who may die in one of the beginning scenes of the film, but subsequent flashbacks reveal more of her life, as do those of her step-father Tom (played by Michael J. Tait).
Combining grief, ghostly goings-on, religion and psychological elements, HERETIC is more of an intelligent slow-burner film, but isn’t without its deaths. There’s plenty of that! Some disturbing scenes play out in the middle of the film, and whilst some scenes where ghosts talk may be a tad on the weaker side, the eerie environments only serve to increase the confusion and ultimate despair.
A strong debut effort, HERETIC is a haunting, claustrophobic chiller that will creep under your skin.
Catch the World Premiere of Heretic at the Bram Stoker Film Festival in Whitby, which runs from 24th-27th October 2013.