Arrow Video Frightfest Review: Heretiks
2.0Overall Score
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British horror has a long and iconic relationship with religious and folk horror subgenre. From the seminal Unholy Trinity of Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man, through to Ben Wheatley’s modern psychedelic and dark interpretations, Kill List and A Field in England, visions of the intwined relationship between the body, nature and religion have brought a distinctive and challenging examination of both British historical identity and the psychological schism of worship. Now, Paul Hyett of Howl fame has thrown his hat into this expressive genre with Heretiks. However instead of a resurrection, Heretiks never finds the life to succeed as a vital and engaging horror, rather delivering a staid and placid experience. 

Set in the 17th century, a young woman, accused of witchcraft finds her salvation from death when the mysterious Reverend Mother offers her sanctuary at a secluded retreat to serve God. However, upon her arrival at the priory, she quickly realises something more sinister is lurking in the shadows, something whose evil seeks to claim the souls of the women within the walls. Something ready to feast in sin.

Unfortunately, while this set up would appear to provide the necessary space to either play with conventions or simply deliver a satisfying piece of genre cinema, the overall narrative is uninspiring to a deeply disappointing degree. Events move with little intrigue or complexity, as the machinations that have let to the spiritual horrors are revealed, characters receiving little to no distinction or emotional development to truly discern them or hold the audience’s empathy. In spite of this, the cast performs ably, particularly Claire Higgins who captures the air of gravitas and cold precision in her performance as the Reverend Mother, but the inherent weaknesses in the narrative give very little space for any of the actors to truly shine, as they wade through suspense less sequences that strangely have more in common with the repetition and the petty totalitarianism of school life than the framework for a brooding supernatural mystery. 

As the narrative builds, Hyatt wisely shifts the tone for the film’s climax, embracing a more vicious, physical horror that is reminiscent of The Evil Dead; it’s a move brings a welcome sense of entertainment and thrill as the audience finally feel a sense of impetus and real stake that pierces the monotony that disappointingly hangs over the majority of the film. However, while this sudden turn into the excessive invigorates the film as it draws to it’s conclusion, this only serves to reinforce a clear lack of identity, rather than feel like an homage to the aforementioned classics of the genre. 

Of course, as a low budget feature, there are inherent limitations that are unavoidable in such a production, but the central issue with Heretiks is the simple fact that the film’s greatest limitation seems to be a lack of ambition. The pacing and tension of the narrative are languid and harm the development of both pathos and dramatic power. Rather than channelling the charm of Hammer Horror, the historical brutality of Witchfinder General or even the shock of The Exorcist, the film is trapped within itself, behind the bars of cliche and dour listlessness.

 Heretiks is a passable if derivative experience in religious horror which, rather than a fevered atmosphere, fosters a sense of the restrained and, at its worst, the turgid through its lack of imagination and intrigue.

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul250190@gmail.com