I’m not sure what it is about Yorkshire, but it’s currently the hotbed for British horror! With When the Lights Went Out (2012) and Before Dawn (2012) having achieved a certain level of success and critical acclaim, Heretic introduces us to the work of first time director Peter Handford. Father James Pallister’s (Andrew Squires) world has been turned upside down. He has just discovered Claire (Jen Nelson), a girl that he had promised to protect lying dead in a bath having cut her wrists. Opting to take leave from his parish following allegations of a failure of duty by Claire’s family, he returns after six months for the funeral of Tom (Michael J.Tait), Claire’s stepfather who died in mysterious circumstances.
Deep in a crisis a faith, he shares a meal that evening with Father Will O’Neill (James Zakeri) who is shocked to listen to the level of cynicism that has crept into Father Pallister’s persona. Annoyed with what he judges to be disrespect towards the faith, O’Neill leaves their meeting while Father Pallister continues to drink before feeling compelled to stagger through the village and into the home where Claire used to live. Somewhat worse for wear he manages to fall asleep in her bedroom, and upon waking up finds himself unable to leave – trapped in a house that contains his own personal demons as well as some of its own.
With its £30,000 budget, the success of Heretic ultimately depends on the strength of the storyline, the ability to successfully use few locations and the charisma of the lead. In all three of these Heretic succeeds with aplomb. It has a genuinely gripping storyline that resolutely refuses to fall back on formulaic horror templates, putting its faith (no pun intended) in the ability of Andrew Squires to keep the momentum going – and he does, admirably. Much of the film takes place in Claire’s house, which brings the added challenge of keeping the ever growing army of ADHD viewers compelled, but it achieves this by the layers of suspense that it places in this location and a continual revolving door of characters that visit, each one adding depth and intrigue to the plot.
One of my favourite aspects of the movie was its timelessness, a valuable commodity for films as they can often find themselves dated within a short number of years. Heretic though could come from any period over the last 40 years – and I intend that as high praise. It’s a top quality character driven horror film reliant on atmosphere and its ability to draw you in to the web that it weaves – and it’s also testament for how to successfully write, produce and market a small budget horror film in the UK.