Five years ago a cult kidnapped Gloria. After they tied her to an altar they sacrificed themselves under the light of the locust moon, slashing their throats and baptising her with their arterial offering. Gloria wakes up the next morning, caked in their dry blood and surrounded by their corpses, but still alive. Years later, as the locust moon is about to rise again, Gloria is kidnapped by Thomas, a surviving member of the cult. He takes her to his remote cabin where she learns that a demon has been growing inside since that horrific night at the altar. When the sun rises the next morning so will it.
With each passing film Chad Archibald continues to display growth as a director. He has proven himself able to work within the confines of the low budget structure and make a film that does not look it. Archibald has always, in my mind, had no issue creating striking visuals. My reactions to his previous films have always been with the story and this time around his story and Jayme Laforest’s screenplay show marked improvement. As familiar as the structure of The Heretics is there are still a couple of surprises in the mix to grab your attention early on. Once the main trio of characters in the film have forged their own journeys their energy never lets the film’s moderately paced narrative bog down.
Archibald gets good performances out his leads. Ry Barrett, for years a familiar face in Ontario`s horror scene, is reliable and solid as we have come to expect. I am waiting for the day when he is called upon to appear in more productions across Canada then beyond. I wish Nina Kiri had more to do in her role of Gloria than sit or lie shackled in the cabin, waiting for morning to pass. To Kiri`s credit she does well enough because Gloria experiences a long night of suffering and an ugly physical transformation. This has to be believable and accepted by the audience and Kiri`s performance combined with the incredible work of the makeup department accomplish that as Archibald takes Gloria into the second worst night of her life.
Again, let us just take a moment to point out the terrific work of Archibald`s makeup and effects crew! Of the five artists and designers credited to the film only two had worked on a Black Fawn production before. The team`s work on Gloria and her transformation is great.
I feel that the real standout of the lead trio is Jorja Cadence as Joan. At the beginning of the film Gloria and Joan`s relationship is portrayed respectfully and not exploited by the filmmakers. This relationship gives Joan her drive to find Gloria, thus Cadence gives The Heretics the bulk of the energy and purpose to push the story forward. It would be very easy to insert a fiery redhead quip in here but her performance stood out to me and should at the very least draw the attention of more local productions in and around Toronto.
I directly expressed a concern to Archibald about his central character Gloria, and some of the female characters from his previous films. This is potentially spoiler-ry for the this and the next paragraph. My concern is that they go through incredible physical suffering and changes through the run time of the films. While I appreciate that yes, they emerge stronger, my concern is this is not by their own volition. As with his prior film Bite a central female character experiences changes by an invasive force. Gloria spends the better part of The Heretics chained to walls or a chair while the demon begins to manifest itself inside her. While she may or may not come out of this experience stronger or more powerful this was still not by her choice.
However, another way to look at it is that his attractive lead women undergo physical changes that may take away their physical beauty but they still become powerful, that great power does not come with favorable physical appearance. That is all. Moving on.
Even with some subjective responses to Archibald’s latest film I still think that The Heretics is his best work to date. With a familiar narrative he still manages a couple surprises to keep it interesting. His cast contains a reliable stalwart and lets us know that there are a couple of femme fatales emerging on the horizon. The technical work and Archibald’s execution is above reproach and with news that Archibald gets a bigger sandbox (read: Breakthrough Films is giving him a wee bit more budget) to play in for his next film I look forward to seeing what he and his writer Laforest come up with next. Word from Archibald is that he has a story that they have been working on for the past year and half and is excited that it is at the point he feels he can commit it to film.
(The Heretics had its World Premiere at the Canadian Film Fest here in Toronto last week)