Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Unearth the Evil that Lives Beneath THE CHURCH
Director: Michele Soavi
Rating: 8 / 10
Seen via: Blue Underground DVD
In medieval Germany, a band of Teutonic knights encounters a gathering of pagan heretics and slaughters them, dumping them in a pit to rot. To contain their evil and keep them from rising from the mass grave, they're sealed in the ground with holy symbols, and a cathedral is built on the gravesite. There they remain until modern times, when a visiting scholar arrives at the cathedral to study the ancient documents held in its library. Will his curiosity unlock the secrets that have been literally buried for centuries?
It sounds like a pretty standard premise for a horror film, but it's the way in which director Michele Soavi (Cemetery Man) handles that sets it apart. If Soavi's name isn't enough to spark interest, The Church also features music by Goblin (in one of their later incarnations), and stars a young Asia Argento, whose father Dario was heavily involved in the film's production. Even with this many stars of Italian horror aligning, the film could have easily gone astray. The Church was adapted from the script of what would have been the third film in Lamberto Bava's Demons series, and in less talented hands it could have been another low-grade franchise entry. Fragments of the Demons formula remain, particularly toward the latter half of the film when a diverse group of people find themselves trapped in a building with an evil that's spread through wounds. Where the previous films culminated in giant action-packed finales, The Church moves forward in fits and starts, gradually unearthing the arcane history of its setting and drenching the proceedings in alluring visuals and subversive imagery.
The Church lulls you into complacency and then interrupts it abruptly with phantasmagoric violence and visions of infernal terror. It lifts imagery from sources as diverse as renaissance wood-carvings and Boris Vallejo paintings, but manages to unify them all in a consistently dreamlike atmosphere. Soavi doesn't have any qualms about taking his time with the plot, and chooses to indulge his lavish set-pieces, which boast some seriously impressive practical effects. Ask yourself this: how often does a movie featuring demons actually show you some demons? Here they're portrayed in all their disturbing glory.
Where most films involving demonic forces treat them as external entities that have been invoked or provoked in some way to enter our world and wreak havoc, the evil in The Church comes not from outside our world but from its past. Far more awful than the peaceful pagan cult in the opening of the film is their slaughter at the hands of the medieval church. Their second coming is a reckoning, a inevitable balancing of the scales and a revealing of long-buried secrets. If there's any evil here, it's the church itself.
While the pacing might be offputting to some, the wonders on display here are just too weird and unsettling to make for a boring film. I'd been saving The Church for a while because I had a feeling it'd be something special. I wasn't wrong.