Who would have thunk that some random genre movie featuring a vampire priest could turn out so horribly? Don’t answer that, it’s a rhetorical question, but The Reverend does absolutely nothing to advance crazy cult cinema blending religion and horror, as writer/director Neil Jones offers a fangless, spiritless chore to sit through. When I’m watching a screener, I can always preempt reviews with an initial reaction based on how many times I glance at my phone for momentary relief. For every glance, a film loses a review star. Based on that scale, The Reverend should have stood around -1,395 stars, but since our rating scale doesn’t exactly go that low, some adjustments had to be made – but please understand how atrociously underwhelming this vengeful vampire story reveals itself to be.
Stuart Brennan stars as the titular Reverend, a new priest in a small, rural town. Joining such a tiny community, the Reverend establishes himself as a communal mainstay ready to help in any way he can. Unlike typical residencies, our reverend gets off to an interesting start, and during his first week, an evil woman bites into the father’s neck, transforming the man of God into something more brutishly vile. Waking up feeling strange, the reverend turns a wicked mean streak that starts becoming noticeable in the town, as some of the more unsavory characters start disappearing. Will our reverend’s secrets be exposed? Can he shed his wretched curse?
Borrowing general ideas from Garth Ennis’s vastly more famous graphic novel Preacher, The Reverend wastes all potential inherently found in a vampiric clergyman cleansing the seedy underbelly of a small, sleepy town. Ignore the fact that Rutger Hauer has a small, useless cameo, forget the dreams of gory, action-heavy violence, and horror fans, hold onto your butts. Comic books are being adapted in droves, but The Reverend serves little purpose besides building a hopeful franchise character in the most doldrum of fashions. Heavily emphasizing a conversational backstory, Jones struggles to compete with similar genre films capable of delivering fun-focused excitement, speeding through our reverend’s late-night attacks with annoying montages and other distracting techniques – a sign of unfortunate low-budget restrictions.
The Reverend doesn’t fail because it’s an independent effort though – it fails because of lifeless filmmaking. When I think “angelic vampire reverend,” I think “badass renegade blood-sucker fighting thugs while wielding a sharpened cross” – fair assumption, and a righteous one at that, no? Instead, Stuart Brennan’s role plays more towards afternoon specials and PSA commercials of old, as he simply presents people with good and bad options, and just watches their decision. “You know Billy, you don’t have to go hang out with those thugs, I can take you home to your mother” – that kind of dry, bland presentation. Then, just as Brennan is finally gearing up for our reverend’s big outburst, said montage kicks in, and we’re just given a flurry of neck-biting and dead, nameless side characters. Abrupt and rushed, Jones finishes his story of judicial cleaning before it can even begin, but more importantly before we can even invest any emotion.
Neil Jones calls upon his effects team for every gushing ounce of blood, so there’s at least some salvation for gore fans, but the repetitive nature of numerous neck bitings only offers momentary thrills. Brennan’s reverend isn’t exactly a master fighter, only inheriting his new vampire lifestyle while still being a mild-mannered preacher, but because of his mundane nature, the gore isn’t supplemented by memorable thrills. Gore never can just be gore – there has to be something fuelling visual gross-outs. If scary enough, gore can be used to emphasize the torture and horror. If over-the-top, gore can be used to stress absolute insanity like decapitated heads and flying limbs. When neither tone is achieved, you get The Reverend – dry, crusty kills promoting boredom, awkwardness, and a false conception that blood equals scares.
The Reverend is a re-used concept with even worse execution, removing everything interesting from a movie about a good-hearted vampire savior. Amidst the constant jabbering and excruciating flashbacks with a weirdly accented actress, we quickly realize that a town full of small-minded stereotypes, horridly choreographed fighting (albeit minimal), and one cursed reverend is probably going to be the last place we’ll find some relief form a genre that’s become entirely too hit and miss. No matter how hard you try, The Reverend most certainly won’t be answering any of your prayers.
The Reverend takes what should be a uniquely engaging story and turns it into what could pass as a bloody "Afterschool Special."