Arriving less than a week after the high-profile death of Pentecostal pastor and reality-show star Jamie Coots by snakebite, the religious thriller “Holy Ghost People” is well poised to exploit fears of an already misunderstood spiritual minority.
“Holy Ghost People” takes its name from a 1967 documentary by Peter Adair that captures the soul of a politically progressive West Virginia congregation that handles snakes and speaks in tongues. Director Mitchell Altieri’s disappointing feature makes nasty beasts of the very people Adair strived to humanize, portraying them as violent, intolerant hicks straight out of central casting.
Thrusting herself into their midst is Charlotte (Emma Greenwell), a young woman in search of her drug-addict sister. After meeting him in a bar, Charlotte pays Wayne (Brendan McCarthy), a lanky Marine who knows how to take a punch, to drive her to the remote, cult-like town where she believes her sister to be. They pose as father and daughter while Charlotte pokes around, and it’s not long before she catches the suspicious eye of slimy Brother Billy (Joe Egender).
Though it boasts great performances and urgent, intimate camera work, “Holy Ghost People” diminishes as it progresses, enervated by its prioritization of scares over cohesion and a voice-over that tells everything it should show. Long before its feeble, drawn-out ending, it’s clear no miracle can cure this film’s many frailties.
“Holy Ghost People.” MPAA rating: R for violence, language and some drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. At Arena Cinema, Hollywood. Also on VOD.