When first going through the list of films that were going to be playing at SXSW, “Holy Ghost People” immediately caught my attention from the title alone. After watching a short trailer to see what it was about I made it a personal mission to see this film and was not disappointed with the result.
The story follows Charlotte (Emma Greenwell) as she attempts to find her missing sister. She gets help from an ex solider named Wayne (Brendan McCarthy) to find her sister that she believes disappeared into Sugar Mountain (a religious sect in Appalachia filled with snake handling religious fanatics) led by Brother Billy (Joe Egender). Once they arrive at Sugar Mountain they are entered into an upside down world that challenges their faith as well as puts their very survival in question.
The entire cast does a remarkable job at bringing the audience into this strange world that at times feels like arriving on another planet.
Charlotte and Wayne are introduced into a very unfamiliar part of the American landscape and help ease the audience in along side them.
Brother Billy leads the Appalachian church people by putting faith to the test while holding poisonous snakes overhead (one snake named after the devil himself) and preaching the gospel.
“Going into making this film I had two fears…one was snakes and the other was singing in front of people,” Egender admits.
The soft-spoken actor transcended those fears and manages to play a very memorable antagonist.
Director Mitchell Altieri (“The Violent Kind” and “The Hamiltons”) brings the audience into unfamiliar territory while building tension like a tight rope slowly being wound.
Altieri is mostly known for his previously released horror movies, and that background adds to the overall atmosphere in “Holy Ghost People.”
The grainy, raw tone of the film fits perfectly with the landscape that Altieri creates.
“Holy Ghost People” worked on each level that it aims for. It gives a very real look into a sect of radical zealots that at times has the feeling of a documentary. It tests the faith of all characters involved while unraveling that mystery of a young girls disappearance.
“Holy Ghost People” ended up being one of my favorite movies premiering at SXSW this year. The small imperfections in the film are things that could easily be ironed out; for the most part they add more to the feel of the film itself.