Brit Chiller mixes art with religion.
THE GATHERING (O.K.)
A Swift release (in France) of a Granada Film presentation, in association with Isle of Man Film Commission, of a Samuelson Prods., Granada Film production. (International sales: Capitol Films, London.) Produced by Marc Samuelson, Peter Samuelson, Pippa Cross. Executive producers, Steve Christian, Jerome Gary, Anthony Horowitz, Patrick McKenna, Duncan Reid.
Directed by Brian Gilbert. Screenplay, Anthony Horowitz. Camera (color, widescreen), Martin Fuhrer; editor, Masahiro Hirakubo; music, Anne Dudley; production designer, Caroline Amies; art director, Frank Walsh; costume designer, Nic Ede; sound (Dolby), Albert Bailey Amps; digital effects, the Moving Picture Co.; associate producer, Rachel Cuperman; assistant director, Chris Newman; casting, Sarah Bird. Reviewed at UGC Orient Express, Pads, July 30, 2004. Running time: 100 MIN.
Cassie Grant Christina Ricci Simon Kirkman Stephen Dillane Marion Kirkman Kerry Fox Luke Fraser Simon Russell Beale Dan Blakeley Ioan Gruffudd Michael Harry Forrester
With: Jessica Mann, Peter McNamara, Bridget Turner, Robert Hardy.
Genuinely creepy despite being a bit too plodding and methodical, "The Gathering" is, for much of its running time, a thinking man's horror movie. Christina Ricci-starrer about an amnesiac American in England who ends up living with the family of an art scholar at work on a mysterious altarpiece blends curses from the recent past and ancient times with sometimes stiff but consistently eerie strokes. Still in a holding pattern for U.S. and U.K. release, British production had a modest release mid-July in France, where it drew some good notices.
Helmed by Brian Gilbert, whose specialty has tended toward accounts of real-life figures ("Not Without My Daughter," "Tom and Viv," "Wilde") rather than genre fare, pic also reunites Kerry Fox and Stephan Dillane after their' very close encounter in "Intimacy" (2001).
Spooky opening shows a young couple climbing a hill by night for a romantic view, only to be swallowed up by the earth. Local priest Luke Fraser (Simon Russell Beale) calls in his friend, Prof. Simon Kirkman (Dillane), to examine the vast underground chamber the youngsters fell into near the village of Ashby Wake, in the West of England.
Non-believer Simon, a noted debunker of alleged fragments of the true cross, determines that the pit contains a first-century church. It has two unusual features: a life-sized bas relief whose human figures have particularly striking faces, and a large stone crucifix in which Christ has his back to the church, an apparent first. Luke and other religious dignitaries insist the discovery must remain hush-hush, while Simon gives it the archaeological treatment.
Meanwhile, Simon's wife, Marion (Fox), distracted by young son Michael (Harry Forrester), hits a pedestrian, Cassie Grant (Ricci) on a country road. Although the impact is severe, Cassie ends up with just a few scratches and a bad case of amnesia. Oh, and an unnerving propensity for scary hallucinations.
While waiting to remember more than her name, Cassie stays with Simon and Marion to care for their two children. Another relative newcomer, Dan Blakeley (Ioan Gruffudd), becomes interested in helping Cassie get to the bottom of her insistent, disturbing visions. Meanwhile, Luke--probably one of very few priests to have a flatbed editing table in his quarters--has some unsettling hunches about that ancient has relief and why a previous administration saw fit to bury it.
There's something almost perfunctory about the way potentially juicy ideas are presented, until the quiet tale kicks into expedient overdrive in a multipart finale that includes some unexpected silliness. As horror pics based on Christian historical speculation go, venture is more suspenseful and entertaining than many.
Pert and buxom Ricci's Cassie sticks out in the small British town, but her being the only Yank around serves the plot in the end. Thesping is fairly standard, despite the otherwise talented cast. The musical score keeps goose bumps on tap, and the Isle of Man provides convincing locations.