If there’s one thing that has been proven throughout history, it’s that religion, in any form, can be dangerous. When someone believes in something so passionately, they can be willing to go to very extreme lengths to stand by those beliefs. That kind of fanatical belief is put under the microscope in Mitchell Altieri’s HOLY GHOST PEOPLE, a film that gets under your skin and stays there, long after the film ends.
When Charlotte (Emma Greenwell, Showtime’s SHAMELESS), a young and lost woman comes across the tough as nails ex-marine Wayne (TRUE BLOOD‘s Brendan McCarthy), she sees an opportunity to talk him into helping her find her missing sister, who had previously sent Charlotte a letter about being involved in a off-kilter borderline cult-like church led by “Brother Billy” (Joe Egender, who had previously worked in most of the Altieri’s other films). Full of poisonous snake-handling, Brother Billy’s approach is one almost like that of THERE WILL BE BLOOD‘s Eli character, full of leading his church into “salvation” by whatever means necessary, whether it be facing their fears via a massive snake, or getting their sins beaten out of them with a leather strap. Almost instantly, Charlotte and Wayne realize that things are definitely not right within the congregation, and soon find themselves fighting for their lives, all while trying to find out what happened to Charlotte’s sister.
Films like that of HOLY GHOST PEOPLE always walk a fine line between being either believable or ending up being a caricature, which fortunately for Altieri, is definitely not the case with this one. Every actor involved brings a raw sense of realism to the film, and when Brother Billy is on stage, it’s hard not to find yourself enthralled, which is a testament to Egender’s abilities as an actor. He steals every scene that he’s in, and plays a good game against McCarthy’s Wayne character. Brother Billy is a pro at manipulating people, so when we begin to see Wayne slowly begin to buy into the church and its unorthodox reasoning, you can’t help but to feel a sense of tension, wondering how (or IF) things will end up working out, when the mystery that led Charlotte and Wayne there, is finally revealed.
It’s great to see filmmakers grow with each film that they take on, and there’s a strong sense of growth on Altieri’s part, having directed the film under his full name and alone, as opposed to every other film that he’s done listed as directed by the “Butcher Brothers”, a name for himself and frequent collaborator Phil Flores. While the first couple of films that Altieri and Flores made together didn’t offer viewers much originality, HOLY GHOST PEOPLE and Altieri’s solo adventure gives viewers a fresh, unique and completely enjoyable experience, one that doesn’t rely on shock, but instead on atmospheric tension and suspense. Props to Altieri for throwing in one of the best covers of “Cry little Sister” as well.