I can just picture actor/filmmaker David S. Hogan contemplating his first feature-length project. “A horror movie with religious thematic elements,” he writes down on a notepad… and then the heavens part, and Todd Downing’s screenplay, The Parish, lands on his desk. He flips through it. Spooky house? Check. Traumatic past? Check. Exorcism, of demons both real and metaphorical? Check. Oh, and religion? Check and mate.
Liz (Angela DiMarco) relocates to a rainy small town with her disturbed daughter, Audrey (Sanae Loutsis), in hopes of escaping her past. Liz’s husband, Jason (Ray Tagavilla), may have died in combat, but memories of him, both pleasant and not so much, are still vividly embedded in her mind. Liz does her best to keep it together for Audrey, but Jason’s bloodied, muddied face haunts and taunts her dreams.
Odd shenanigans start to occur. Audrey draws scary images. Liz ventures down a dank basement that’s supposedly locked, after a boy, Caleb (Lucas Oktay), who might possibly be dead. Threatening nuns appear in Liz’s backyard. Along with Father Felix’s (Bill Oberst Jr.) help, Liz must dig into the parish’s past to discover that her daughter has become a conduit for demonic forces. It all culminates in an extended, special-effects-driven exorcism sequence, which would have been okay if said effects didn’t look like they were painted in post-production with a neon crayon.
“…must dig into the parish’s past, to discover that her daughter has become a conduit for demonic forces…”
Downing and Hogan either miraculously missed the plethora of spiritual horror flicks that have permeated streaming platforms for decades or studied them all to a T, consequently replicating each plot development and shock tactic. The result isn’t terrible per se and sticks to the book with such determination that one has to give it some credit. The Parish is also bolstered significantly by its leads. Is it worth your time, then? Only if, like Hogan and his screenwriter, you’ve either never seen a single horror flick involving evil nuns and demonic possessions, or love them so much, that the mere thought of a haunted parish sends you convulsing on the floor in worship.
Angela DiMarco elevates the project with a poignant performance, touching upon depths the filmmakers may not have intended. She makes the quieter sequences in the film – ones involving her remembering her husband or looking at her daughter lovingly – much more effective than the purportedly frightening ones. Bill Oberst Jr. is a low-budget horror film stalwart and here delivers another quirky lil’ feat of acting, whispering throatily and chewing away on proverbial ham.
The Parish does not even attempt to avoid sentimentality or predictability. Tony Tibbet’s awkward editing reveals a man doing his best to mask budgetary, directorial, and auditory blunders. I appreciate that Hogan touches upon the notion of facing your past in order to deal with it. Still, aside from that, there’s hardly an original bone in this cinematic skeleton.
"…DiMarco elevates the project with a poignant performance..."