Tuesday, 20 October 2015


Horror stories that focus on biblical events, such as The Exorcist and Omen movies, make up some of the most effective and popular films that the genre has ever produced.
Taking faith, a human trait that brings comfort to many, and subverting it, dealing with the decidedly grimmer tales of the Bible or even the horrendous acts carried out in the name of organised religion, is a powerful tool and rarely fails to unnerve.
This leads me to Gus Krieger's The Binding, a film that has yet to find a distributor and is instead making the rounds on the festival circuit.
Is this a movie that would keep me bound to the screen? Or would I just want to break free?
Read on…


Director: Gus Krieger
Stars: Josh Heisler, Amy Gumenick, Max Adler, Leon Russom, Catherine Parker, Larry Cedar, Max Adler, Stuart Pankin, Kate Fuglei, Virginia Welch, Kevin Stidham

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

Sarah (Amy Gumenick) and Bram (Heisler) are a devout religious couple in a small town, overjoyed at the birth of their first child, Scaia. This joyous event is celebrated by the church community where Bram is a pastor, and senior clergyman Father Uriel (Leon Russom) is among those to add his congratulations.
Life is good for the pair (even if Sarah’s beliefs mean she feels a little uncomfortable towards her homosexual neighbours) — right up until Bram reveals that he has been having a recurring dream, a nightly vision in which God himself appears to Bram and says that he must sacrifice Scaia to avert the End of Days.

At first Sarah thinks this is something that the pair can cope with together, praying side by side and united as they face Bram’s crisis. However, she soon realises that Bram’s visions are intensifying and, under their relentless influence, her husband is starting to become swayed by these powerful messages.
Turning to multiple sources for aid, both in the church and the field of medicine, the increasingly desperate Sarah uncovers several long-buried secrets involving mental illness, miscarriages and addiction.
Can she protect her daughter from the man she loves? And at what cost?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): The Binding (written and directed by the extremely impressive first-timer Krieger as his premiere feature) is a compelling story driven by a fascinating central dilemma — can faith go too far?
It’s an intelligent plot, featuring likeable, believable characters that draw us into the complex web that Krieger weaves. The film takes its title from the biblical Binding of Isaac, in which God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. For those unfamiliar with tale, at the Lord's behest, Abraham bound Isaac and took him to the future site of Temple Mount where, at the point he was about to strike, an Angel intervened, preventing the sacrifice. There are obvious parallels with the plot of this film, but the title takes on a deeper meaning when looking at the themes of Krieger’s story. Bram is bound by his vows to the Lord and his own struggles with alcoholism, but it is the manner in which Sarah is bound to Bram as his wife and as the mother of his child that is key to the entire plot.
Sarah (brought to life with a brilliant performance from the talented Amy Gumenick) and her struggles with her faith, her role of mother and her perceived responsibilities as a wife, are at the heart of the story. It is impossible to fail to feel for her, watching as her preconceptions about her role not just in the church but in her family are torn down. It’s committed and flawless work from Gumenick, not shying away from her character’s flaws and showing us glimpses of the terror and fragility beneath the surface.
Josh Heisler’s Bram is also wonderful, Heisler playing the part just right to avoid any melodrama. It would have been easy to veer into hammy, cartoonish lunacy, but Heisler instead provokes sympathy, showing us that this devout clergyman is no caricature. Instead he is a man that is struggling. With a history of mental illness and alcoholism in his family, it becomes easy to see how guidance from religion could have helped him to find the right path for his life. That this very same faith should now be the source of his anguish is heartbreaking and Heisler nails this with his sterling performance.
Elsewhere the excellent Leon Russom and Catherine Parker provide great support. Russom's Uriel is enigmatic, filling his every scene with gravitas and utterly commanding the screen each time he appears. The lively Parker has less screen-time but makes the most of what she has, playing her character Sam as a barely existing victim and frightening warning of what could well await Sarah in her immediate future.
However, as impressive as the supporting cast are, make no bones about it, this is primarily the tale of our leads.
And what a tale it is, raising plenty of questions but never preaching to its audience — there are no heavy-handed criticisms of organised religion or bull-headed proclamations that only Christ can save us. Instead the issue is dealt with respectfully and thoughtfully, examining the themes on an individual basis rather than making sweeping generalisations. This is the story about one person's role within the church and her struggles as she replaces what she thinks she knows with the truth about her place in the world.
That Kriegler’s thought-provoking story is presented in an eye-catching and clean fashion by gifted cinematographer Jeff Moriarty — especially during some genuinely frightening nightmare sequences — is just another boon for the film.
It is these nightmare sequences, often preying on a parent's insecurities and neatly giving us an indicator as to the emotional state of Sarah, that offer some of the most chilling moments in the film. As these so often segue into scenes in which the dangerously unravelling Bram roams the house, seemingly not under his own control, they make for an effective one-two punch for building frights. Cleverly using light and darkness, plus a very effective and understated score by James Raymond, these scenes are the ones most likely to have the greatest impact on fear-seekers.
The Binding is not heavy on jump-scares, nor is there a huge body-count or fountains of gore. Instead there are some superb twists and turns (and not a few red herrings along the way) and, despite the somewhat sedate pacing, the mounting sense of dread so exquisitely crafted by Kriegler and his team builds to a truly gripping climax.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning: Like I said before, The Binding is a cerebral horror film. This means that it's a lot less flashy and moves at a slower pace than your average Friday the 13th sequel. I think this is to be applauded, not least because it gives Kriegler more time with which to introduce his characters, solidify their relationships and, most importantly, it gives us more time to come to care for everybody before the real horrors hit the screen.
However, precisely how scary you'll find these horrors very much relies on how much you are prepared to work with the film, to concentrate on its subtleties and ponder its many intricacies. I have no aversion to this, and I can be patient if the film will ultimately reward this patience, but I do understand that there are some readers out there who may find The Binding moves a little too slowly for them.
Also, as mentioned above, while the main characters in the film are very nicely fleshed out, the film's very narrow focus gives us surprisingly few people to care about. There are some characters who pop up now and then for exposition purposes, but outside of the central pair, very few of them are given much time or material to make any real impression.
Finally, the ending. Obviously I don't want to spoil it here, so I shall be very careful in what I say, but I think it might have hit me a little harder had there been more ambiguity with what is very, very strongly implied. It's a clever trick and I don't hate the reveal per se, but it does jar a little with the film that has gone before it. This is just my opinion of course and I certainly don't expect many of you will agree. It certainly wasn't a deal-breaker and, in truth, it's a fun finish to a movie that has been almost oppressively dark until that point.

THE VERDICT: The Binding is a mature film and, if you are prepared to work with it, a film that is as likely to keep you awake at night pondering its weighty themes as through its effective scares. With a pair of towering performances from the leads, and a superb and assured vision from the director, The Binding shows that imagination and skill can easily overcome the budgetary constraints of indie film-making. Here’s hoping that it finds the audience it deserves on the festival circuit, and with that, the means to make its way to our screens sooner rather than later.

In the meantime you can find out more about the film here at its official Facebook page. Give it a Like while you're there too!

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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