To become a horror filmmaker, like any kind of filmmaker, one must first construct an innovative narrative. It all begins with words on a page. From there it takes preparation, dedication, and pure passion. Making films today (in comparison to the past) is only easier in the sense that technology is more accessible. Even with the right equipment it takes vision, will, and persistent determination to fulfill your dream.
The horror genre, unlike any other genre, offers its creators with endless opportunities for experimentation. Utilizing elements of a fake documentary style – or found footage – sets up only restrictions on perspective. It does allow for an anything goes style which means all of the formal rules of filmmaking – taught in schools – can be ignored. First-time filmmakers are drawn to this well of challenge and freedom. The creators of The Dooms Chapel Horror prove they were up for the task. Though the film may – at first glance – look like just another shaky cam effort, there is so much more to it.
Director John Holt and screenwriter Jason Turner make an impressive team. Rather than using a faux-documentary style to capture some sort of paranormal entity, Dooms Chapel grounds itself within a world of grief and guilt. From the film’s opening few minutes of older DV footage, we learn that it is an entirely different type of beast. Even though the title is a reference to a country road and a cult that dwells there, it also reflects what happens when tragedy and revenge meet within a story – they create doom. Jason Turner seems to understand – all too well – the darker aspects of humanity. He gives his protagonist Kyle (Austin Madding) a backstory that begins with sibling rivalry. This rivalry is due to a mythic idolization of the all-American teen. His backstory ends with the ever consuming guilt of inaction and the total loss of innocence. These themes underline everything that follows.
In the first scene, we watch the world through the eyes of young Kyle. He follows his brother Ryan (William Ryan Watson) and struggles with the fact that he is not more like the high school star. Kyle’s whining and inability to care about farm matters leads to a bloody combine accident where Ryan is reduced to a spray of red chunks on a fresh crop. The stares of strangers and the unified hazing of Kyle (after his brother’s death) force him to leave the once serene Kaler Mills.
Eleven years later and fresh out of film school, Kyle decides to return to the town that no longer wanted him. He comes back with his girlfriend Mandy (Abby Murphy) and his filmmaker pal to reconcile his past so he can finally move on. The town and its people still view Kyle as the child who killed their golden boy. Through interviews it is made apparent that Kyle is still unwelcome. This is the mindset that ultimately dooms this small town in rural America. Revenge shall be served. A dark pact that Kyle made with a local cult during his mourning will finally pay off. Kaler Mills’ hate and Kyle’s guilt have created something inhuman and very hungry. Soon everyone will be forced to answer for their actions. The underbelly of this small town will be revealed, and when that happens no one is safe.
Cult leaders in films are always charismatic, but most of them want you to commit suicide. Jordan is a different breed of leader altogether. Bill Oberst Jr. conjures more than charm and fear. He creates, in his character, a symbol of hope for the misguided. His is the pulpit of love and togetherness. Once he meets the loathing within Kyle, the two are bound in a blood oath. And blood is what they get. The other stand-out performance worth mentioning is the menacing redneck Samuel. Joshua Mark Robinson makes it a point to show the pure venom of jealousy and ignorance. Samuel is the heir apparent of Jordan’s cult. He is the bigoted would-be leader whose seething vileness toward Kyle lingers long after his scenes are over.
The summoned creature may not have a lot of screen time, but the glimpses we see of it are terrifying. Through stop-motion and practical effects, we thirst for carnage. In the bottomless sea of found footage films it’s difficult to find ones that are made with such passion. John Holt and Jason Turner have fulfilled their greatest dream. With their eagerness and perseverance we can’t wait to see what the two of them will accomplish next.