To be completely honest, I’m a bit surprised that this film slid under my radar for this long. A Blumhouse film starring Jessica Alba? About cults? I would have (& sort of still am) been all over this.
There have been dozens of cults that ended in suicide after their leaders, like famously Jim Jones or Heaven’s Gate. On top of that, there’s also dozens of films based or inspired by it. A personal favourite of mine is Ti West’s The Sacrament (side tangent: the fact that Ti’s making another horror flick makes me very excited, but that’s another time).
25 years has passed since the mass suicide of Heaven’s Veil where there was only one survivor, Sarah Hope (Lily Rabe). Sarah believes enough time has passed, and so she reaches out to Maggie Price (Jessica Alba) who is making a documentary about Heaven’s Veil to find out what really happened. Maggie shows Sarah a photo of cameras at the time of the suicide, as well as a room that was never found. And so, the two (and the rest of Maggie’s crew) go back to the compound where everything started.
The movie brings a very interesting story to life, and we have Jim Jacobs (Thomas Jane) as our leader who is one-third Jim Jones, one-third David Koresh, and one-third of a Rockstar preaching and screaming about life after death. While that doesn’t make him any different or special than any of the leaders who Jane took inspiration from, the difference is that Jim wasn’t lying (or delusional). They have seemed to discover a way to continue living after death.
While the story is great and keeps me anticipating the rest of the film to unravel, some aspects of the film itself aren’t special. For example, there are moments of colour (some of the “flashback” sequences) but yet, most of the film is very unsaturated. While gray could be a great colour palette, it feels forced and unnecessary when it’s because the colourist bleeds the colour out.
On top of that, there’s no true consistency in the use of the camera. We could or should have three different styles of filmmaking – the documentary that Maggie is making, the footage found that was shot 25 years ago, and everything else in between. But during the found footage segments, the camera moves and follows characters. It jumps back and forth between objective and subjective camera movements. We enter the footage and it sticks to static shots and soon find ourselves cutting to audience reactions and responses. This becomes hard to follow and leads to a sometimes-jarring film. In one sequence, Maggie tells her camera guy to shoot as she walks towards water, and we see him prep the camera and begin filming. We then cut to a shot right behind her following her, and then a shot in front of her as she walks.
Reading up on the film, it seems as if it was originally designed as a full found-footage stylized film, and in retrospect, this makes a lot of sense. You can feel the found-footage style still in the bones and foundation of the script, but it gets lost in other aspects as the film continues. In fact, if the film was found-footage, it likely would have improved the film, even though it is fascinating wondering what it could be like for Jim Jones be right. Or Jim Jacobs. Almost the same thing.
The blu-ray from Kino Lorber looks exquisite, but the special features on the disc are quite low. While it includes a commentary and an interview with Thomas Jane, the disc only includes the trailer after that.
The Veil is out on Blu-Ray now.