Since the genre’s infancy, horror and religious themes have been known to go together like peanut butter and jelly. From powering Exorcisms to defeating ravenous vampires, the word of God has had an undeniable impact on the genre, for better or worse. This long-standing relationship also means that a lot of seemingly innocent religious imagery is now associated with horror, so it’s only natural that we’d see films like Dom Franklin‘s The Church, a movie where the house of God itself appears to turn on the people within.
The Church stars Bill Moseley as Pastor James, a dedicated preacher with a critical decision on his hands once real-estate developers target his landmark Church for their new project. Tempted by obscene amounts of money, the Pastor, his associates and the developers gather at the titular Church for a meeting, only to discover that the building itself might have an opinion on the matter, as it closes off the exits begins to devour the wicked one by one.
While this definitely sounds like an interesting premise, subverting expectations as a traditionally holy place takes on the role of the antagonist, that’s pretty much all that this film has to offer. Terrified people run around the church, stopping for a short conversation, and then one of them is picked off in a formulaic scare. Rinse and repeat. There’s only so many times you can see a poor soul be swallowed up by a demonic wormhole into a CG-heavy alternate reality before the experience starts to get stale.
The film often feels like a low-budget evangelical production, not necessarily because of the setting or general message but mostly due to the filmmaking missteps that the label implies. Odd camerawork, unprepared actors and unfinished effects keep the movie from feeling like a serious endeavor, despite the presence of the legendary Bill Moseley (who’s surprisingly effective as a preacher, considering his infamous role as the Firefly family’s Otis, also known as “the Devil, who’s here to do the Devil’s work”).
Fortunately, Franklin does manage to make the most of his location, as the Church itself is atmospheric and creepy, while still maintaining an air of believability. After all, why would people still attend Sunday sermons in a place that looks ripe for demonic shenanigans? It’s a shame that this doesn’t extend to the scares, which are mostly ruined by sub-par effects and predictability. At times, it felt like the horror aspect of the film was just an afterthought, with the meat of the picture being the moral dispute over whether or not Pastor James should sell the building.
The Church doesn’t quite reach the point of offending viewers with its misguided creative decisions, but there really isn’t much to recommend here. With a larger budget and a more focused script this could have turned into a memorable thriller, but what we got was ultimately a waste of a good Bill Moseley performance, and nobody wants that. It may not be a total waste of your time, but there are definitely better religious horror movies out there.