“JUDAS GHOST” (Film Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
In the surge of haunting films coming out of the independent horror landscape as of the past few years, the struggle for originality has become harder and harder. Of course, many of these films have become reliant of jump scares, familiar imagery and a wealth of off-screen demises to mask the unfortunate limitations of their budget. However, a rare few of these films are approached with ambitious stories with genuinely unique scares, and the filmmakers are so enamored with those tales that they tackle them head on, despite their budgetary restrictions. And in that experience lies something much more gripping, imaginative and chilling, and is what makes Simon Pearce’s JUDAS GHOST such a welcome addition to the haunting film canon.
Of course, JUDAS GHOST understands the familiarity of the genre, and actually tackles it head on: there are comical moments that address the different type of hauntings, ranging from poltergeists and exorcisms to something much more visceral. And in doing so, JUDAS GHOST also tips off the audience that some of these familiar moments might just pop up, but luckily, the film structures these moments to feel more organic than derivative. But what JUDAS GHOST does so well is that, in the familiarity of the genre, it poses a threat that doesn’t necessarily follow by their rules, allowing our seasoned ghost hunter leads to evoke a genuine sense of fright right alongside the audience. It’s one thing for a filmmaker to be subversive to audience expectations, and it’s another to be subversive to those expectations whilst being subversive to the nature of the characters themselves.
It’s that sense of duality that makes JUDAS GHOST, for the most part, unpredictable. At different points in the film, the narrative changes gears whilst forwarding the story and exposing our characters little by little. Even in the exposition laden sequences, the truth about our heroes, their motivations and their dynamic is never overtly revealed, which allows the smaller character moments to flourish just as well as the big, bloody scare scenes. And for gorehounds who criticize haunting films for their sparsity of the red stuff, JUDAS GHOST delivers when it needs to, injecting big bloody scenes and practically-created grue on top of the darker, more ominous atmospheric scares.
Of course, one half of the reason JUDAS GHOST works is the talent behind the camera, with Simon Pearce proving himself a versatile and engaging director who provides a film even beyond his means (even at the risk of some spotty CGI at points). Director/Editor Pearce and cinematographer Roger Pearce inject JUDAS GHOST with a unique visual composition, providing TWILIGHT ZONE-esque reveals and scares that work beyond the set-up/punchline nature of haunting films. Furthermore, Simon R. Green’s script offers a level of conceptually creepy scares that create an energetic intensity from almost the get-go, all the while giving each character their time to shine in a way that fits the stories and the performances. And visual effects supervisor John Swinnerton deserves praise for the bloodier moments in the film, especially once the particularly nasty-looking titular character enters the mix in the late second act.
However, the other half of the reason JUDAS GHOST works is the absolutely excellent cast, who offer top notch performances with an innate understanding of their characters. Martin Delaney is simultaneously charismatic and believably terrified as Jerry, channeling equal parts confidence and desperation while still finding the humor and horror within his character’s unflinching exterior. Lucy Cudden and Alexander Perkins are excellent as well, with the former playing a more despair-ridden take on the familiar psychic character while the latter pulls out an intense frightened performance as the team’s impulsive techie. And Simon Merrells is also phenomenal, offering a shaken ghost hunting veteran like this writer hasn’t seen in this kind of film, embracing a sense of mental claustrophobia that allows for a more emotional and sympathetic character overall.
Overall, JUDAS GHOST is one of those rare horror offerings that is as interested in telling a clever, refreshing ghost story as it is offering the best film possible. Despite the occasional cheesy line here or there and rough digital VFX, the film is absolutely effective, making you legitimately care for its characters before thrusting the audience into some visceral scares. But above all, JUDAS GHOST is referential without being derivative, allowing horror fans to get just comfortable enough to slip into the film easily before shaking them up with a different kind of horror altogether.