Belief has achieved cult status in New Zealand and is starting to be noticed over here in Australia. Well okay we had to import a review copy, but the community is starting to mention the movie with generally good thoughts. Director Phil Davison's follow up to Kung Fu Vampire Killers is quite the intense outing and will have you on the edge of your seat at stages. In one of those strange twists of fate that seem destined to be spooky I received in the mail my review copy of Belief as well as the Maori mythological anthology show Mataku at the same time that news was coming down the line of a trial in Wellington over an exorcism that had gone pear shaped. The kicker there was that the trial involved a spirit inhabiting a sacred object very much reflecting an episode of Mataku. So armed with coincidental scary stuff I slapped on Belief at 3.30am and settled into what I hoped was something to get my motor running.
Talk us through itbr> Three flatmates from Dunedin, Mel, Lizzie, and Josh, are heading to a remote farmhouse in the hinterland of Otago. On the way they pick up a hitchhiker, Azaria, apparently escaping from a suicide cult operating close to their destination.
When they get to the farmhouse, talk about your isolated setting, the wine and cake comes out to celebrate Mel's birthday, and Lizzie gives Mel a Ouija board. Anyone else's horror-dar going up? They eventually get a message from the beyond, "Daddy's here" and it's not long till Azaria has the Roos bounding around in the top paddock.
In one of the more bizarre developments Mel and Lizzie decide an exorcism would be the order of the day, Azaria is going all Regan on us, and Google a ceremony up. Bad mistake as the brown stuff hits the rotating blades and hell comes to the Stylx Valley.
Ready to see if the power of Christ will get you through this one?
Reviewbr> "Sweet little girl talks to Captain Howdy on the Ouija board, gets taken over by the spawn of Satan, projectile vomiting … very nasty." - Lizzie
First up Belief looks to have zero budget with a no name cast, limited equipment, and most of the SFX following the Peter Jackson tradition of making it up as you go along. So if you are after a highly polished Boredwood style horror flick then Belief isn't the movie for you. It's rugged, unpolished, and really hits you between the eyes with the realism. I'm calling it the best exorcism flick since Jennifer Carpenter proved she could contort it up with the best of the Japanese actors. Speaking of Sadako, we'll get to that revenant out of the land of the rising sun later in the review friends and neighbours.
Director Phil Davison starts his movie with a pretty impressive opening, wonder if this was filmed towards dusk? Some chick is trudging down a rock filled hillside with a suitcase and surprisingly a pair of high heeled boots on. A funky urban based soundtrack immediately kicks in with the hint of someone reciting the whole "though I walk through the valley of death" thing. Davison cuts to a view from the front windscreen of a car travelling some deserted country road, he superimposes what looks like a suicide on the windscreen that surprisingly is very effective given the soundtrack and overall night falling feeling to the scene. I was immediately wondering if I was seeing signs of stigmata on the body. The Director finishes an enterprising and effective opening gambit with a woman's maniac laughter spliced into our funk sounds. Not to give too much away but Davison is pulling a swift one here with the opening scene being pretty much an overture to the movie we are about to sit through.
Davison simply has light and darkness working for him and stages each shoot of the movie with an artist's hand.
Having got the audience primed, we're all trying to figure out the apparent suicide gambit, Davison wastes exactly zero time in getting our four leads to the isolated farmhouse and giving Azaria a good reason for being along for the ride. The movie then simply focus on the four main characters and one night in isolated rural splendour. Okay "splendour" might be subjective here. Just a sidenote, how many horror movies have you seen where the protagonists are holed up in an isolated farmhouse as chaos descends? I love this stuff, whether it's a ghost story, a zombie siege, or in this case an exorcism outing. I love me some isolated farm house action, specially if things go spectacular wrong for all involved. One of the errors I think modern yank supernatural movies are making is situating things in antediluvian mansions or the sort of house that you would need a seven figure income to keep up. Well okay it would also help if modern yank Directors had a handle on the particular tiger they have by the tail when making a horror movie. Thankfully for the viewer Davison is all over his rural location and knows exactly what he is doing with the film.
Having got our four leads down on the farm and into some "mother's milk", a.k.a red wine, Davison swings into his main theme pretty effectively. Lizzie is ex-catholic bible school and no longer believes in her religion, in fact she mocks it and crucially is the most unchristian of the three flatmates in their initial dealing with the enigmatic Azaria. Neither Mel or Josh confront their own beliefs but Azaria mirrors Lizzie in having forsaken her god, there's a biblical connotation there involving a road and Damascus. Davison spends quite sometime showing both Lizzie and Azaria can rap biblical phrases a lot better than a Southern Baptist Preacher, these gals have the whole thing done pat.
The introduction of the Ouija board (horror fans will be nodding sagely at this stage), it's a present to Mel from Lizzie for Mel's birthday, marks the exactly point where Azaria completely throws off her former life as a cult member. Davison is all over this part of movie with frontal lighting that forces focus on the characters, and with the background being in perpetual darkness. The audience are forced to concentrate on the characters and dialogue, yes this movie is way past intense, rather than rely on action and cheap scares. A sound upstairs disrupts the first attempt to contact the other side via the Ouija board, sorry didn't note the letters being spelled out, but is past off as possums. I was wondering if Davison was referencing The Exorcist here, with the rappings in the roof of the Georgetown home kicking off proceedings in that movie.
For the rest of the movie Director Davison keeps it tight with the focus being heavily on his characters. He uses background lighting sparingly forcing attention to the foreground constantly, right through the middle of the movie. The Director has an excellent grasp of how to light his scenes, and how to use almost black and white to convey the horror going down. There's very little colour in Belief, things I guess are meant to be either black or white theme wise as well.
Davison kicks the supernatural part of his movie into high gear with the pronouncement, via the Ouija board, that "Daddy's Here", a chilling and effective start to all out mayhem on the Azaria front. The three flatmates deposit their comatosed house guest upstairs in the spare bedroom and get the whole Regan spiel, with the piglet stuff, Azaria still being a virgin, and the like. Whether you are buying the possessed thing or think that Azaria is suffering from some sort of religious persecution complex is the quandary that will be Davison's focus for the rest of the movie. There's a psychological explanation for what's happening, there's also an occult one. The kiwi indie Director is more effective in this regard than the makers of The Exorcism of Emily Rose who showed their hand way too early and then blew the whole movie with one of the more ludicrous developments you will ever see.
There's one scene I didn't get in Belief and try as I might I simply can't fathom the logic in it. Lizzie tries to contact "the community", the cult Azaria formerly belonged to, and gets an answering machine. Soon afterwards there's a knock at the door, which surprisingly our three protagonists don't bat an eyelid over, it's not like it's the middle of the night in an isolated location or anything! Turns out John, the Community Pastor, is out and about searching for Azaria. He can tell Lizzie, Mel, and the Audience that Azaria is likely to become very unstable if she doesn't take her medication. See there's that whole quandary of religion versus science again. Surprisingly no one has Pastor John up the stairs and Azaria out of their lives quicker than a bad locus taking wing here. Weren't they just trying to contact the Community?
To cut a long story short, mainly due to word constraints, Davidson fills the second half of his movie with some real intense scenes that will have you on the edge of your seat. Mel in the wool shed is simply dripping with tense, Lizzie going back to the house on her own makes you wonder what she may discover, and Josh getting lost in pitch blackness should have Blair Witch fans reaching for the tissues.
Overall then Belief is simply excellent horror viewing with some nice dark and heavy themes running through it, naturally since I didn't drop a ten on the movie I came up with some problems. You will find some scenes stretched slightly too long, with another edit needed to keep the pace flowing. Belief gets it's wheels stuck in places when it should be picking up speed. There's a few too many references, both oral and visual, to The Exorcist. While I'm all for pea soup and bed rattling action must viewers wont compare the movies favourable, and yes I believe The Exorcist in the wash up still holds it's crown in the exorcism stakes. Just got to say the mobile phone battery graphic on the screen was simply distracting while not adding much of meaning. I initially thought it was the camera battery running low. And finally the love triangle really didn't go anywhere or bring much to the alter. Though having said that have to add that it's one of the more bizarre plot devices I have ever seen in an exorcism film.
Sara Georgie (Mel) is doing okay while not exactly making you pencil her name in for future reference. Not the best performance to have ever graced my screen but Ms Georgie I guess is going for that natural mood. Marguerite Juanico-Nielson (Azaria) is simply channelling Sadako and is all over the possessed steam train blowing the conductor's whistle. Juanico-Nielson is a real find and will have you believing. Anita Cumming (Lizzie) is equally pretty good as the hard nosed ex-catholic who has to rethink her ideas. Enjoyed Cumming's performance while not being blown away by it. And finally Amadeus Rainbow (Josh) is simply atrocious with the least said about his phone in performance the better. Belief actually picks up when he's off screen, enough said.
T&A didn't figure into Director/Writer Phil Davison's plans at any stage, and it's got to be said it wasn't missed at all.
Phil Davison did a Carpenter and composed the excellent urban funk score himself. Mixed in we get periods of silence with ambient sound used to devastating effectiveness. Perhaps the only criticism of the soundtrack is that it's way too loud toward the end of the movie undoing some excellent preceding work.
Summary Executionbr> Belief justified it's cult status and certainly comes at you packing a punch. I enjoyed the entire movie and actually needed a break about midway through to stock up on beverages and snacks. A bit more work could have been put into the "is she or isn't she" side of things, but it didn't overly distract from the movie as things progress. Pleased I finally got a chance to see the film and will definitely be having a look at Director/Writer Phil Davison's next effort.
For the purposes of this review the New Zealand release of the DVD, region 4, found it's way to my screen. The single disc comes with more extras than you can poke a cross at. The obligatory "making off", which for a change is worth a look, and a short by Phil Davison Tooth being the pick of the bunch.
If you don't mind movies that aim to be more intense and spooky than battling you into submission with sudden shocks or gore then Belief is well worth a look. The movie aims to get under your skin and has something to say, which isn't something you normally mention when talking about your average Boredwood outing. Phil Davison will make you want to believe!
ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...br> br> Worth your while adding to the collection kids, try www.mightyape.co.nz.