The Faith Community. 2017. Directed by Faith R. Johnson. Screenplay by Johnson & Robert A. Trezza.
Starring Oliver Palmer, Janessa Floyd, Jeremy Harris, Julia Feinberg, Aidan Hart, Heather Johnson, Grant Johnson, Jeffrey Brabant, & Michael Fiocco.
Vicious Apple Productions
Not Rated. 86 minutes.
Anybody who’s frequented this site likely knows that I’m a big fan of found footage, always willing to give these films a shot. So many people are jaded by them at this point, and rightfully so, because the industry’s been pounded with film after film, low budget efforts concentrating only on the rugged look rather than characterisation, or even plot. So it’s only natural a lot of viewers are tired, not in the least are horror lovers looking for something that can match up to The Blair Witch Project, Rec, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, and others.
Well, one thing’s for sure – The Faith Community has my vote as one of the better found footage horror efforts in the past few years, near the top of the heap. Usually when religion is part of the story in horror we’re given so much of the same regurgitated demonic possession, over and over. Whereas Ti West’s The Sacrament recreated the terror of cult leader Jim Jones, The Faith Community tackles pure religious fervour within a small community of people following one man, a prophet who calls himself the Messenger (Jeremy Harris). After a trio of people go into the woods to learn about this religious sect, they discover they’ve bitten off more than they can chew.
The setup for the plot is one we’ve seen before, this isn’t reinventing the wheel by any means. But what the film does well is takes us, believably, into a horrific situation that unfolds gradually over a sparse 86 minute runtime. This isn’t a bunch of shaky cam shots, it isn’t all screaming and frantic dialogue. There’s a tense buildup, we get to know the characters well, and it all comes crashing down in a perfect, creepy way.
Part of what draws the viewer into the film, and quick, are the characters. The cameraman, Colin (Jeffrey Brabant), in particular is enjoyable. Because there’s also an interesting dichotomy of faith happening here. The visiting trio with their camera are all believers, they’re religious; to an extent. But Colin, he’s definitely the most relaxed of the group, he believes but he isn’t what you’d call an extremist. He lures us in with youthful charm, then we get to know his friends, and later the community.
Once the Messenger is introduced, immediately things are unsettling. You can tell right off the bat he is an eerie, theatrical man, a constructed and composed individual who’s most certainly hiding something; what that is, who knows, though eventually it’s all revealed. It’s the confrontational interview with the Messenger that sets the viewer, by proxy of Colin, on edge. This is where that dichotomous sense of faith emerges, from those who believe in a more casual relationship with God v. those who take God and the Bible to an extremist vision of religion, one that’s possibly very destructive.
And this leads into one of the film’s biggest themes, as we come to see an overall metaphor of the sociopolitical landscape of our current postmodern society, torn apart by faith of the extremist sort, of all kinds, and people invested in an apocalyptic worldview (I’d toss the American Republicans in with this line of thinking, too). As one character named Michael (Oliver Palmer), especially terrifying, says directly: “War brings you closer to God.” If that’s not a far right-wing talking point in some insane little group of 2nd Amendment loving, Bible thumping, patriarchal nut jobs, then I don’t know what is, frankly.
The horror of the film erupts when the faithful have realised the extremely faithful have gone over the line, this descends the plot into pure adrenaline and fear. In a split second, everything changes. You can definitely see it coming, that doesn’t change the fact it’s drawn out with such suspense and tension it’s near unbearable. Colin, of course, sees through the whole charade, and his friends are caught up in the presence of the Messenger’s so-called art, fooled and blinded by their own faith, their willingness to believe. After the trio witness the performance of an Adam and Eve-style play in the woods, we’re plunged through an existentially horrifying moment or two as they each react in different ways. It’s well acted, well executed. This one scene creates a frantic sequence that doesn’t have to be filled with shaky camerawork. Rather, this sets up the final 20 minutes as uncomfortable real finale that’s utterly disturbing.
The Faith Community doesn’t have to step outside the conventions of found footage to make it interesting. In a day and age where the sub-genre is being reinvented mostly through gimmicks, it’s nice to see a film just try to be genuinely scary instead. The actors do a pretty good job, which helps sell all the intense, emotional, nail-biting drama driving the plot forward. Above all, the story and the plot are so compelling in their realistic horror that it’s hard not to find yourself gripped by the film’s events. It also helps that the found footage aspect is a constant, sometimes an aspect that falls by the wayside in the sub-genre when filmmakers are more concerned about the action than the unwritten rules of the format. Our experience as a viewer is altered for the better when the one camera catching all that action is the only camera to which we’re privy, heightening all those frights and all the suspense; it’s inescapable. For all these reasons, The Faith Community deserves a look from anybody even remotely fond of found footage.