by Sherif Awad
I am not a fan of horror films in general but I am really a fan of good horror films, which are quite rare, compared to the numerous being produced to reach film theaters or go straight to video. This week, I was surprised while watching The Veil, the latest film by Phil Joanou because it did not get the proper marketing campaign it deserves not to mention it went straight to home streaming a couple of weeks ago.
Phil Joanou is a name I used to know since he directed three consecutive thrillers: State of Grace (1990): a Godfather with Irish mobs, Final Analysis (1992): a tribute to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and Heaven’s Prisoners (1996): a modern detective thriller. Joanou then disappeared from the feature film scene whereas his name was credited to some U2 documentaries, a TV film and another sport film. The Veil marks Joanou’s return to what he does best: thrillers. The plot is loosely based on the Jonestown massacre where around 900 members of a community committed suicide in 1978. However, screenwriter Robert Ben Garant takes the premise and inject other supernatural and reincarnation elements.
The Veil starts like a found footage thriller where pieces of news about a mass suicide of the members of Heaven’s Veil, a religious cult, is aired on CNN. The camera pans to a five years-old young girl who appears to be the sole survivor of the incident.
Twenty-five years later, documentary filmmaker Maggie (Jessica Alba) contacts the sole survivor Sarah (Lily Rabe) to make a documentary using Sarah’s side of the story. Maggie also plans to look for recorded tapes and films that were made by the cult leader Jim Jacobs (Thomas Jane) but they were never recovered.
Once there, Sarah remembers the location of a house hidden within the forest, where the documentary crew discovers not only the lost footage but the remaining of missing cult member Karen. After repairing the projector, they begin watching the remaining 8mm films where Jim Jacobs, the leader of Heaven’s Veil, describes how he has uncovered the secret to eternal life. By designing drugs with his knowledge of alchemy, he hopes to free his followers’ spirits from their bodies. They also learn that Karen is Sarah’s mother. In the later tapes, Jim experiments with dangerous drugs to help him temporarily cross over to the spirit realm. During one trance, he possesses a cult member and announces that he has freed the first of three bindings from her soul. I will not reveal more plot details to leave potential viewers discover it by themselves.
The Veil’s quality goes to a very good performance by Thomas Jane who already rewrote his own dialogue line to inject to his Jim Morrison-like character a mix of charisma, madness and danger. Lily Rabe seemed to be the perfect choice to play Sarah after her co-starring roles in several seasons of American Horror Story. Jessica Alba also delivers another good performance that adds to her best roles in the like of The Killer Inside Me. The photography by Steeven Petitteville gave the film a very mysterious atmosphere with subdued colors and wide lenses. Most of the current horror films rely on gore or misuse of computer graphics. The makers of The Veil successfully rely on the performance of their actors and the skills of their behind-the-camera crews.
I hope that The Veil makes its production studio Universal think more of Phil Joanou as helmer of bigger budget films because he deserves more than other directors playing in the cinema field.