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Veil, The (2016)
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by Charles Tatum

"To Know a Veil"
2 stars

When I was reading the credits online to this film, I had quite the "wow" reaction. I didn't care about the cast so much as the writer and director. Robert Ben Garant, comedy writer extraordinaire and cast member of one of my favorite sketch shows of all-time ("The State") wrote a horror movie? And it's being directed by Phil Joanou, director extraordinaire and helmer of one of my favorite high school comedies of all-time ("Three O'Clock High")? What could go wrong? Then I realized that this was being released "straight to internet," and after I watched the film, I understood why.

Siblings Maggie (Jessica Alba) and Christian (Jack De Sena) are making a documentary about Heaven's Veil, a California-based cult lead by Jim Jacobs (an unrecognizable Thomas Jane). The cult's fifty or so members all committed suicide twenty-five years ago and Maggie has convinced lone survivor Sarah (Lily Rabe), who was five years old at the time, to return to the abandoned compound where the mass suicide occurred. It seems in all the coverage from both press and law enforcement, someone missed the many cameras that were scattered around the area, and Maggie wants to find out what was on that film and video. Sarah, Maggie, and her crew head into the woods...first mistake, and we'll blame casting for this- the male members of the crew all look alike, even Christian. They all have beards, and I kept forgetting which one was Maggie's brother until she would conveniently remind one of them that the mass suicide "destroyed our family too" (their father was one of the FBI agents who raided the compound).

There are a few leaps in logic and plotting that will have you scratching your head. I was kind of morbidly grinning when the group lays out their sleeping bags for the night on the very spot where over fifty bodies had been a couple of decades before. Sarah leads them to an abandoned house in the woods, making the viewer wonder how any law enforcement could have missed it during the initial investigation. The house has a lot of secrets, and Maggie's pursuit of "the truth" trumps any sort of normal behavior. Hey, there's a body in one of the rooms that your star eyewitness tripped on- throw a sheet on it, and get on with the investigation! Crew members begin to disappear, and as the remaining film makers watch the easily discovered films, they find out what Jacobs was capable of doing.

Joanou directs the hell out of this. He even turns standard jump-scares into actual scary moments. The cinematography by Steeven Petitteville is beautiful in its grunge. Robert Ben Garant's screenplay tries to keep the viewer guessing about what Jacobs did long after the viewer stops caring. There are hints of ghosts or zombies, before Jacobs' true power comes to light, and it just makes you wish it really had been ghosts or zombies wandering around the woods for all those years. Jane channels David Koresh, and his scenes are a little more interesting than all the modern-day slasher film hokum we have to sit through. Even the time element is off, as the group watches dusty films of Jacobs and the cult that take just a few minutes, but should have run for hours and days considering all the material they had to go through. Rabe is good as Sarah, and Alba is okay as Maggie, although it would be hard to play a character like this (her attempt to one-up Sarah in the "the mass suicide affected me, too" scene should have been dramatic and harsh, but Maggie comes off as selfish and narcissistic).

It's nice to see Joanou back behind the camera again, he had quite a run back in the 80's and 90's. Hopefully this will serve as a calling card to get him the kind of prestige projects he should be working on. Unfortunately, the rest of "The Veil" should remain hidden.

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originally posted: 02/03/16 22:48:49
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  19-Jan-2016 (R)
  DVD: 02-Feb-2016

  04-Apr-2016 (15)

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