The Ungodly a.k.a The Perfect Witness. 2007. Directed by Thomas C. Dunn. Written by Mark Borkowski & Thomas C. Dunn.
Starring Wes Bentley, Mark Borkowski, Joanne Baron, Marina Gatell, Albert Lopez Murtra, Kenny Johnson, and Beth Grant. Dreamz Entertainment/Zip Films. Rated 18A. 96 minutes.
Recently I snatched up a few rare DVD titles on eBay, movies I’ve wanted to see a long while but – for various reasons – could not watch. All sorts of stuff, from the near lost 1977 Rituals a.k.a The Creeper to Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and others.
One such film is this 2007 horror-thriller, The Ungodly a.k.a The Perfect Witness. I’ve been a fan of Wes Bentley ever since seeing him in American Beauty, as so many of us probably have been. He’s a fantastic actor, all the more admirable for having conquered his perilous drug addiction; a state he was in during the filming of The Ungodly. Knowing he did this movie, I had to see it eventually. Finally now, I can say I’ve seen it. Verdict? Dig it. A ton. There’s a lot to admire here, from an interesting script on a familiar situation to raw and vicious existential horror. Between good writing and solid acting, this movie will take you on a hard ride. Let the whole think sink in and the further you go the more unnerving it will all become.
Mickey Gravatski (Wes Bentley) lives at home with his mother. He’s an aspiring filmmaker, definitely struggling. Not just struggling – he is a young alcoholic trying best he can to deal with his issues, going to Alcoholics Anonymous and trying to make documentaries to fill up his time. While tracking a working serial killer, or a man he thinks to be one, Mickey inadvertently catches him on video committing a murder. Blinded by the thought of fame, the young documentary filmmaker blackmails the killer – James Lemac (Mark Borkowski) – into letting Mickey film his life.
Once Lemac turns the tables on the young man, the waters get deeper, darker. And things start to spin out of control. Going from a simple talking head style documentary to a real live murder spree, Mickey’s world fast descends into chaos.
James: “Conscience is a sick bed. Under its filthy sheets lay all our fears. It’s not conscience that prevents men from killing and raping, it’s consequence. Fear of death, jails, God. But really where is he? Do they hear his name when they scream it? Do they return to him piece by piece when I’m finished with them?”
Without argument, the acting is a huge element of why The Ungodly works overall. It’s not only Bentley who comes out swinging here. Mark Borkowski – who I’ve only ever seen playing a bit part in Coppola’s Dracula and as alcoholic veteran Paul Sagorsky on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire – is unexpectedly phenomenal. I mean, maybe others might see this movie as a whole to be something completely different from how I take it. But regardless of how anybody feels, I can’t see people easily passing off Borkowski’s performance here as anything less than impressive. It’s not an easy task to make a cold blooded, relentless ruthless serial killer into a semi-sympathetic character. Yet there are key moments in the film where Borkowski does exactly that. Others times he’s chilling your blood and the hateful nature of his character comes across effortlessly.
Bentley, as I’ve mentioned, is a favourite of mine. He pulls his weight here. Even if in interviews he’s stated the throes of his drug addiction were beyond in full swing at this point, I still think he puts in good effort. There’s one moment specifically where he is lying on the floor, writhing in torture and crying, scared for his mother – you just won’t find it any better! He is capable of great range and I always find he’ll shine, doesn’t matter if the movie is good or bad overall. Just so happens this is a solid horror-thriller all around. He and Borkowski simply add an extra, delicious devilish layer to the cake.
No way this isn’t an all out horror movie. Lots of thriller aspects here, but this is pure horror in most of its best moments. Truly, it is filled with existential dread. The situation in which Mickey (Bentley) finds himself is downright awful, though, not exactly a situation he didn’t beg into being. It’s his fault, but there’s such a terror within his journey alongside serial killer James (Borkowski). Thing is, right from the beginning you keep wondering “how the hell is this even happening?”. Then constantly you find yourself flying along the rollercoaster, right there with Mickey, right there with James, and it’s as if you’re there most of the time. Insanity bubbles and boils scene after scene. Right before the hour mark, there’s a sequence that made my whole spine tighten and the intensity had me at the edge of the couch. You’ll know which one: starts with Mickey meeting a woman at her door, right before he’s blindsided by James. The whole time there’s an uneasy feeling, throwing you off balance. Though, no telling how anything will happen.
A major creep factor in The Ungodly is the backstory of James Lemac. You don’t get too much explicitly shown, except for a brief moment where a young James and his mother are seen in dreamy images down in the dark basement, lashes on the boy’s back already and his mother acting very.. inappropriately, I want to say? Either way, whatever the description, these shots are scary in an under the surface way. They grind beneath your skin and will make you feel icky. Works great. Instead of slamming the viewer in the face with expository dialogue, long winded explanations for why Lemac is the killer he has become, there’s lots of subtle madness around the corners and in the small moments between the action.
Not entirely sure, or sure at all of why The Ungodly isn’t better regarded/known among film fans. It’s one of the better horror-thrillers I’ve watched in a while. Certainly must have been one of the best out of 2007 (serial killer horror), for me anyways. Not only are there creepy scares, intense performances, lots of good stuff in regards to terror, you’ll also find it’s shot well. The cinematography looks spectacular, this DVD release I snatched up is great quality.
In my books? 4 out of 5 stars. A fascinating take on the serial killer film with two solid actors and a horrifying (in all the right ways) screenplay. If you can get your hands on a copy, do it. At the very least this is something out of the way compared to many other horrors like it, you’ll probably find something intriguing to focus on. Say what you will: it’s not typical, in any sense.