February 1, 2014
Matt Hish, Ian Ascher, Chris W. Freeman
Jessica Morris as Brenda
Rib Hillis as Tom
Hannah Cowley as Beyla
Neil Dickson as Erik
These are the toughest kinds of pictures to review. Exactly what are these kinds of pictures? The overly ambitious flicks that are damn near radical, but lack the refined behind the scenes talent to truly reach radical levels. Believe me, Haunting of the Innocent is a valid bid to create something special and somewhat unique. The cast and crew invest their all, unfortunately, they all seem just a tad too green to pull it off as it deserves to be pulled off, and a tale of this nature likely needs a significant budget in order to fully convince.
Do not for one moment take that as bashing. Because I’m certainly not out to bash this lot. Director Matt Hish clearly pushes for strong performances, and he does a fair job of making very limited sets and locations work to his advantage. The film appears a little cheap, from time to time, but Matt’s got his head in the game and in this case, he’s trying his damnedest to disguise his monetary limitations. Furthermore, he’s got a group of dedicated, even if not experienced, actors that want to deliver grade-A performances. You can see that. As leading male, Tom (played by Rib Hillis) commits an insanely vile act (that I won’t further discuss to avoid spoilers), he pours his rage into an extended, emotional scream. And in that moment you completely understand the man’s desire to shine. He gives it every ounce of his being, and that’s commendable work, even if he has a few shaky moments earlier the pic. The dude is investing his all, and really, what more can you ask for from someone who may not be accustomed to fronting intense pictures? All I can personally ask for, is real, tangible effort, and he gives that.
But Hillis isn’t the only player on board willing to thrive for greatness. Brenda (female lead actress, Jessica Morris) has a moment in the picture in which she spots conviction and wrangles it like you wouldn’t believe; she’s describing – to her husband – the effects she felt while being raped (which actually occurs in the film’s opening sequence, so this one isn’t much of a major spoiler, for the record) by an unknown intruder. As a man, to hear her personal take on things was absolutely nauseating. Just like Hillis, when the big moments arise, Morris steps up and hits a homerun. The point is, these two aren’t jogging through the production: they sprint. And they’ve got strong support, I should note, in fact, on the acting front, no one really falls in full shadow, which is a pleasant surprise.
As for the story itself, well, it’s actually somewhat difficult to break it down without spelling the twists and turns out for you (which would in truth require quite a bit of time and a staggering word count). I’ll give you this: rape is only the catalyst to a far more threatening set of circumstances. After the victimization of Brenda, the family temporarily relocates to Brenda’s childhood home. But that home holds dark secrets, in fact the entire town – a somewhat small rural community – holds a plethora of secrets, and that secrecy will ultimately be the undoing of a family already on the edge.
That’s what you get, in terms of the general synopsis. Just know that this is the type of story that reaches beyond the battered content we see pumped out on a regular basis. It’s not a seamless tale, but there’s heart here and that drives the machine into respectable territory. You’ll find plenty of faults in the feature, but if you approach it with an open mind, you just might catch a glimpse of the grandiose tale that Hish and screenwriters Ian Ascher and Chris W. Freeman (Hish has a hand in the writing process as well) aimed to tell. Haunting of the Innocent could have certainly been a stronger flick, but it isn’t an outright disappointment thanks to hard work and genuine effort, two things often disregarded in the indie field.