Religion is a hot button topic in our current Red State/Blue State dynamic, a real cultural and social dividing line. As a result, films centering on belief either come off as incessantly fundamental - more onscreen revival meeting than actual cinematic entertainment - or psychotically disrespectful - so eager to take the opiate of the masses to task that they usually throw out the ethical baby with the staunchly atheistic bathwater. Comedy is of course, off limits, since no one (not even a clever word-Smith named Kevin) can seem to make 'dogma' deep and witty at the same time. Enter Gory Gory Hallelujah. This perverted parable, a self-described "fairytale" for the upcoming Armageddon, is that real deal rarity - a creed based satire that actually works. Far funnier than you'd imagine, it also offers up more insight into the mechanics of belief than your usual Jesus-inspired jokefest. It's a triumph for its female filmmakers, and a lost gem amongst the usual Indie idiocy.
Sometimes, something so original comes along that it takes you aback for a moment, throwing off your usually sound and set criteria and aesthetic and causing you to readjust your critical radar (if only a little). Though it's smartly realized narrative kind of falls apart toward the end, and its breakneck pacing means that much of the subtleties get lost in the chaos, Gory Gory Hallelujah is still one exciting, engaging film. Part religious rant (pro and con), part faith-based freak-out, this thoughtful provoking farce may seem, at first, like nothing more than an outright dismissal of all organized belief systems. But thanks to the keen, clear satirical eye of writer Angie Louise and director Sue Corcoran, this film transcends its low budget Indie trappings to function as both Bible bashing and spiritual re-awakening. Not everything it says about God, the Devil and their individual disciples on Earth is prophetic or prescient, but it is all done in such a sharp, sincere and surreal manner that the meaning eventually becomes clear.
Part of the movie's skill derives from its talent and tone. Corcoran has an excellent eye, carefully composed compositions meshing with masterful mise-en-scene to bring artistry to the anarchy depicted. Her use of color is cheerful and direct, and the overall mood of wicked wackiness compliments the complex scripting perfectly. One wonders how much of the dialogue and action of Gory Gory Hallelujah was actually written out and how much was ad-libbed or developed on the spot. One imagines that a great deal of the film was thought out in advance, since it is so sharp and well considered at times. Angie Louise has a very interesting style - a combination of ironic and idealistic - that gives the movie zing without a lot of zaniness or unpolished silliness. The narrative seems driven by a desire to understand the nature of God, to determine the complexities of religion and the validity and/or fallacy of many of faith's more befuddling teachings. Together, Corcoran and Louise's slyness never stumbles and the film never becomes obvious in its opinions or ideas.
The acting is also first rate. All four of the Jesus jonesing leads - Tim Gouran and stoner sex addict Sky, Jeffrey Gilbert as the militant Rahim, Todd Licea as the nice Jewish boy Joshua and Louise herself as the love starved Jessie - walk the character tightrope between cliché and correctness, stereotype and individuality so carefully and clearly that they come alive as believable and three dimensional. Even when addressing those standard pigeonholed people like Elvis impersonators, backwoods rednecks and evil businessmen, the filmmakers match the performers in finding the right combination of ridiculous and reasonable to keep their film genuine. Even the slow, rambling realism of Joseph Franklin as Mo Jack finds a perfect home in Corcoran's crazy designs. Balancing over the top with authentic and smart is never easy, yet this fledgling director finds a way to make it all work. It is a credit to a creator when, even with his or her most minor characters, we want to see more of them. That is the case throughout all of Gory Gory Hallelujah.
Sadly, the film stumbles a bit at the end, keeping it from being a certified classic (it still sits nicely in the campy cult category). Far be it for this critic to begrudge the ancillary addition of the living dead, but the last act zombie attack seems superfluous, added to keep the fanboys from fogging over the minute the movie got too thick with ideas. There is not a lot of the title grue here, nor are the cannibal corpses that memorable. They are supposed to be Mo Jack's lynched family (talk about controversial content) and yet they represent several ethnicities. There is a last minute attempt to save the inconsistency, arguing that ALL the dead will rise once the Rapture/Apocalypse arrives, but we are never sure if this is indeed the end of the world, or just some much needed comeuppance for the wicked citizenry of Jackville. Had the ending been as brave and ballsy as the rest of the film, Gory Gory Hallelujah would be one of the best outsider films of the year. As it is, it is still a major work of substantial invention and talent. The Von Piglet Sisters (as Corcoran and Louise are known) should be proud of this accomplishment. It is a mostly amazing movie.