After a brief hiatus, the blog collab is back with a vengeance. Specifically, the kind of vengeance only provided by horror (very loosely) based on the Jonestown mass murder/suicide. I’m probably being surveilled now based on my recent search history as I fact checked this film. Word of caution: if you are into the historical angle of this film, maybe just watch a documentary? The one from 2006 that aired on PBS is really interesting.
The Uncondensed Version:
So Heaven’s Veil is the Jonestown of this film, and like its real-life inspiration, was the site of a religious cult’s mass murder/suicide. This film seeks a supernatural explanation of the events of Jonestown and asks the (highly original) question—What if a fringe religious group really did find the secret to resurrection and eternal life promised in Christianity?
As our film opens, we discover there was one survivor, Sarah Hope, who was found creepily sitting amongst the dead and insisting “he” will bring them back. Shudder. With no idea of her biological parents or birth name, all members of known immediate and extended family dead, and being raised in foster care, it’s safe to say Sarah had a pretty shitty childhood.
25 years after the fact, Sarah receives an offer from Jessica Alba, aka Maggie, amateur filmmaker with a secret haunted past that we discover after about 10 minutes. As it turns out, Maggie’s family was destroyed by the events at Heaven’s Veil after her father, the lead FBI investigator, killed himself several months later (though there are some really BS-y moments wherein she conflates the experience of her father’s suicide with Sarah’s experience as the sole survivor of the mass murder/suicide of her community).
Maggie has somehow uncovered a major detail that no one has noticed before: there were reels of films made and stored somewhere in the Heaven’s Veil commune, and if she and her crew can finally locate these films, she will finally learn the truth. Or you could just watch the Jonestown documentary, honestly. It really is done extremely well.
Things begin to go badly right away, as one of the crew goes missing with the van only to turn up dead.
Via flashbacks, we learn that Jim Jacobs seemed to have an ability to heal and even separate his spirit and go body hopping. By injecting himself with highly toxic venom and delaying use of the antidote for as long as possible, he’s brought closer to death, thus enhancing his powers. B/c…you know. Obviously it does.
While two of the other crew members go for help, the rest of the team searches for the films. Unluckily enough, Sarah stumbles upon a body inside the super secret house only she can find. As we learn later, this is the body of a close follower of JJ, a nurse who helped with his venom experiments, and none other than Sarah’s biological mother. I wonder who the baby daddy is, you may be thinking to yourself. If you’ve never seen a movie before. Believe that you know the answer to this because you do.
While the crew finds and watches the film reels, more and more of the team members are picked off yet eerily return.
As JJ explains to his followers, death is the only way to be reborn…which they will all accomplish and then release all other humans from life. It turns out leading the FBI raid on the complex was a dick move on the part of Maggie’s dad, who prevented all of these people from receiving the antidote and being resurrected. I guess?
So this explains why the Heaven’s Veilers decided to kill themselves, though it still leaves many opportunities for questions, confusion, and considerable general gaps in logic.
Armed with the truth at last, does it even fucking matter when the crew is stuck in horror cliché hell?
2/5 Pink Panther Heads
Almost went with 3/5 b/c Jim Jacobs is so much fun to watch, but the rest of the film is almost deliberately forgettable. Thomas Jane is believable as the charismatic yet psychotic Jim Jacobs, and seems to truly relish playing the role.
One major sticking point for me towards the end: I was really annoyed with Maggie’s repeated apologies on behalf of her father. 1. She was in no way responsible for his actions. 2. He didn’t force anyone to drink the Kool Aid, as it were (in this case they are poison cubes [sadly not Rubik’s cubes of doom a la Hellraiser]). 3. The goal of the mass murder/suicide was to return and KILL EVERYONE with their rebirth superpowers. There’s literally no reason to apologize here.
The twist of Sarah not being quite as innocent as we’re led to believe is nicely done, but every other moment feels straight out of the horror handbook. With the added insult of an interesting premise that had a lot of potential, this is an extra disappointing feature. Once again, the lesson we can learn here is to always lower your expectations.