‘The Veil’ (2016) Review: Promising Ghost Story Has No Spirit
Whatever one’s fascination is with cults and those that make headlines for convincing members to participate in mass suicides, ‘The Veil’ does little to expand on the questions that naturally arise, putting its energies into crafting a standard horror film instead of painting something more psychological. While there are genuine moments that work, and it is well-cast, the overall result is devoid of the frights it initially promises, degenerates into a series of cheap, obvious scares with no great depth, and twists an ending that is not earned.
In 1985, Jim Jacobs (Thomas Jane eerily channeling 80s Christopher Lambert) is the leader of a religious organization called Hidden Veil, living out in the woods using drugs to try and reach enlightenment. The small compound is home to families who follow Jacobs without question, even when he has them ingest poison in a mass suicide, convincing them that they will release their souls from their mortal coils and return renewed. All members but one die that day, a very young girl named Sarah (played as an adult by Lily Rabe). She is rescued from the ordeal by the FBI, who descend upon the scene too late, discovering the bloated bodies littered about the compound and the child cherub-like sitting among. Nearly 30 years later, Maggie Price (Jessica Alba) brings a documentary crew to the site, she the daughter of the lead FBI investigator who never recovered from the horrors he witnessed, eventually hanging himself. She is obsessed with the case and tracks down Sarah, persuading her to guide them through the compound and hopefully shed light on the mystery. Once there, they discover a room filled with 8mm tapes and as they watch, learn about Jacob’s slow descent and the fate of the victims.
The Veil actually begins on target, giving us a peek into the odd ceremonies and personality behind the leader and his vision, with a clearly disturbed man enticing his followers to believe. But it isn’t long before that track is abandoned and the movie devolves into a generic poltergeist movie with lots and lots and lots of of jump scares and people walking around calling out the names of others. As the crew continues to watch the films, and things grow increasingly creepier, they are witness to a haunting that slowly overcomes them all.
Directed by Phil Joanou, who has made some very creative films, including State of Grace (1990), an outstanding mob movie with Sean Penn and the even more entertainingly dark Three O’Clock High (1987), The Veil has many very well directed moments. Joanou is very effective at building suspense, and several scenes are truly frightening, though they are always the ones that reveal the darker side of humanity rather than the obvious trope scares that saturate nearly every other scene. The more egregious of which are the endless flashes of lightning that somehow never come with rain, found footage shown from camera angles that are impossible, and dialogue that feels ripped from a low-budget 80s slasher. There is a powerful sense of menace in Jacobs and his drive for immortality, but there is also a feeling of studio tampering, most obviously with the aforementioned found footage.
Steeven Petitteville‘s cinematography is decidedly spooky, but overly-muted in heavy shades of green and gray (look again at these images), leaving a lot of the production so doused in shadow it feels like the makers are trying to hide something rather than build tension. The cast tries its best, with Alba looking a little out of place, never really able to carry the weight of her role, most especially by the end when she disappears into a secondary (even tertiary) role as Rabe and Jane take their place in the lead, with Alba literally blurred into the background. What’s worse is the movie’s remarkably sharp twist, one that truly could have been shocking, that is woefully, even shamefully handled, supplanting the burden of that twist on the wrong character, and revealing what would have made an infinitely better story about regret and psychological damage instead of ghosts and immortality. What were the producers thinking? So The Veil ends up forgettable, another disappointing horror movie that takes absolutely no challenges and holds our hands from beginning to end, ticking off every last trick in the well-worn book. And you can be sure, based on the final shot, the studio is hoping for a franchise.
Robert Ben Garant (screenplay)
Jessica Alba, Lily Rabe, Thomas Jane
The Veil (2016)
Director(s): Phil Joanou
Actor(s): Jessica Alba, Lily Rabe, Thomas Jane