dir. Michele Soavi
[This review is part of Final Girl's Film Club.]
[By the way, as is sadly becoming my norm of late, I will jam-pack this review with spoilers. Honestly, though, do you really care if I spoil this movie? Anyway, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Second spoiler alert: I got a little hyphen-happy with this piece.]
Repetitive, synthesized, Philip Glass score accompanies fluid camera moves—Medieval Teutonic Knights lay waste to a peasant village. As knights throw the lot into a mass grave, a mysterious basket-headed individual slinks off. Corpses stir; dead are possessed—dirt quickly thrown atop them. Basket-headed person revealed—young Asia Argento—quickly killed. It is decreed that a church will be built on the evil, demonic-possession burial ground. No bad could possibly come of this.
Cut to: present day—everything jim-dandy at church. Church librarian Evan (Thomas Arana) becomes smitten with church renovator Lisa (Barbara Cupisti); the two soon form a happily-ever-after relationship. SPOILER ALERT: Evan gets pulling-own-heart-out-of-chest-crazy possessed; Lisa knocks boots with the prince of motherfucking darkness. Ruh-roh.
Building on burial grounds—when will movie people learn that this is not a good idea? Unfortunately for the folks in Michele Soavi's The Church, the foolish, centuries-old actions of long-dead knights, have screwed them but proper.
Initially planned as the third entry in the Dario Argento produced Demons series, Michele Soavi's The Church is certainly the nuttiest of the bunch. [The official third entry, 1991's Black Demons, is the only one I haven't seen. Although not officially a member of this series, for the purposes of my review, I'll refer to The Church as the third Demons movie.] The Church generally follows the Demons formula of shoving a disparate group of people in a confined setting, and documenting, cinema-veriteily, the folks as they come to grips with/slowly get their asses done in by the rampant demon possession going on. With The Church, however, the train has completely flown off the rails, destroying everything in its path, including the already-tenuous logic of this film series. Indeed, The Church is an almost avant-garde deconstruction of not only the Demons series but also of the people-stuck-together horror genre typified by zombie movies as a whole. Either that, or no one involved knew what the fuck they were doing. A fine fucking line these people were walking.
With The Church, director Michele Soavi took a long, hard look at logic, bitch-slapped the fucker; and issued a restraining order, disallowing it to come within 100 yards of his production. Once the shit goes down in the church (hey, that’s the name of the movie), anarchy prevails. I do not throw these phrases around lightly. Truly, none of the scenes in the Demon-mind-fuckery section of the film lead logically into each other. Item one: a group of folks helps a young bride free herself of her caught-in-the-church-door wedding dress. Another woman wanders the area looking for her glasses. Wrought-iron-gate-wielding possessed-fucker throat-stabs glasses-woman. Cut to: people lounging in the pews, a few falling asleep. "Hey guys, did you not see that woman getting fucking throat-stabbed? What the fuck is wrong with you?" "Ugh. That was so two seconds ago."
Considering that the movie up until the demonic possession mishigas is relatively straightforward, I think it’s safe to say that the incoherence of the last third of The Church is rather intentional. You see, the movie-logic could have remained tethered to reality, but no, those durn demons had to come and ruin everything. Although Evan's late-night-trek-to-the-basement-wherein-he-accidentally-loosens-a-cross-in-the-floor-causing-the-demonic-bodies-below-to-bathe-him-in-blue-light-and-cut-his-hand-which-in-turn-transforms-him-into-a-demon-possessed-killer/attempted-rapist is supposedly responsible for the demonic outbreak, I'm gonna say it was just a coincidence.
As is always the case when folks find themselves trapped in a confined/haunted space, no attempt is made to befriend or even talk to the other people. As for trying to understand the crazy shenanigans, or, at the very least, casually mentioning that mind-fuckery is going on; these folks would rather randomly walk around, separating themselves from those around them. "You're gonna have sex with a demon? That's cool. I think I'm gonna check out this crawlspace by myself. What else am I gonna do?"
Although it would appear that all hope is lost, hope is not lost...well, for one character, anyway. Yes the young sacristan's daughter Lotte (Asia Argento again—wait a minute) is aided by the badass archer-priest Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie). It would seem that Lotte is a reincarnation of the basket-headed girl from ye olden times of olde, and Father Gus is a reincarnation of a murderous knight from that very same ye olden time. Ol’ Father Gus has a trick up his sleeve: destruction. Yes, he soon learns that the church’s architect built a sort of self-destruct mechanism in the church for just such an occasion (again, something that could have been avoided entirely by not building on the fucking demonic burial grounds. Duh, guys). Father Gus saves the day…and by saves the day, I mean he sets off the church-go-boom mechanism, destroying it and everyone in it just as a pile of naked, mud-covered people rises from the basement. Well, at least Lotte survives.
The Church is full of the thrilling camera-work and inventive visuals one expects from an Argento production. Even though Argento wasn't behind the camera, motherfucker's stamp is all over this picture. Indeed, this bears the usual Argento trademarks even more so than the first two entries in the Demons series. Most importantly, as with any great Argento movie, nothing makes a lick of goddamn sense.