Nearly three decades after a religious cult’s mass suicide, the lone survivor returns with a documentary film crew in tow in search of answers. Namely, what happened to the cult’s members all those years ago and what made them turn to suicide? They soon discover that some secrets are meant to stay buried.
The opening sequence draws heavy inspiration from Jonestown. The charismatic cult leader Jim Jacobs, played by Thomas Jane, even has a strikingly similar name to the Jonestown leader. This cult is known as the Heaven’s Veil, and all similarities end after the initial mass suicide. The film transitions to introduce us to our lead, sole survivor Sarah Hope (Lily Rabe), who has spent the last 25 years bouncing from foster home to foster home never knowing her past. Even her name, as her current moniker was given to her at the hospital post FBI rescue. With no idea who her parents even were, aside from presumable death via mass suicide, aspiring documentary filmmaker Maggie Price (Jessica Alba) wastes little time and effort convincing her to assist their crew in uncovering secrets the FBI missed years ago.
Heaven’s Veil was no ordinary cult, though, and the longer the crew remains on the cult’s land the more things go awry. Whispered voices, visions, accidents, and strange occurrences that indicate that just maybe there’s something supernatural going on here. It all feels standard haunting fare, though, with minor hints of something more scattered throughout the background. Like a Flamel symbol, painted on the wall of Jim Jacobs work space. These small clues hold promise that the plot will evolve into something refreshing, like the alchemy it’s hinting at, throughout the generic jump scares of contorted ghostly imagery or loud music. The breadcrumbs never manifest into full blown ideas, though, and the plot ultimately remains a paint-by-number supernatural film.
The cinematography also contributes nothing into elevating the film into something superior. Some of the camera shots disorient with their strangely skewed, fish eye lens angles. While the washed out coloration felt out of place as well, with the neutral colors giving a more drab mood then perhaps the vintage feel intended. The dreary gray filter drowns out a fantastic set and much of the detail is lost as a result.
The recognizable cast is engaging, though the script never really allows for the audience to tell them apart aside from the leads. Thomas Jane is a commanding presence, and gives his performance his all as the magnetizing cult leader. Lily Rabe and Jessica Alba’s bond through their experiences as child survivors offer a weak pulse to the film’s emotional center, but the script never allows them to develop.
The Veil was developed by Blumhouse branch BH Tilt, a label dedicated to generating films for multi-platform release. Films that maybe aren’t quite on par with wide release. It’s a clever strategy, and one that suits this film well. It’s well crafted enough to enjoy for its run time, but predictable and forgettable in the long run. Perfect for Netflix and chill, but not enough to waste hard earned dollars at the theater. A recognizable, talented cast and a unique idea behind an actual historic tragedy that still invokes questions to this day, but a film that never really explores that concept fully and is hindered by strange cinematic choices.
The Veil is available on Netflix now.
The Veil [Review]
Despite a talented cast and interesting plot developments, the narrative never develops into something beyond standard supernatural fare and is hindered by odd cinematic choices.