The Church (AKA La Chiesa) was Michele Soavi’s second Directorial feature, however, The Church was also co-written and co-produced by Michele Soavi’s old production partner Dario Argento. Originally, The Church was intended to be a third sequel to the Demons series created by Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento, however, Michele Soavi wanted to stray away from what he called ‘Pizza Schlock’ cinema, and instead, he wanted The Church to be a stand alone film, one that’s going to be much more sophisticated than Demons or Demons 2. The Church ended up becoming a restrained, atmospheric film that focuses more on powerful imagery, Gothic horror and atmospheric suspense rather than floods of blood, gore and hideous beasts; a far cry from the works of Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava during the 1980’s. The ideas and themes that The Church explore feel very reminiscent to the supernatural horror films of the 1970’s such as The Exorcist, The Omen, Blood On Satan’s Claw and Mark Of The Devil, and as a result, The Church feels very out of place for a 1980’s horror film, as it feels more more mature, more thought provoking than the majority of horror films that were released in the late 1980’s.
Nonetheless, what first stood out to me about The Church, is the fact that the film has an amazing visual style. Aesthetically, The Church is beautiful to witness, it’s absolutely stunning with slow, suspenseful shots that are bathed in colourful, atmospheric lighting, a very effective style reminiscent of Dario Argento’s Inferno with the focus on colour and sweeping cinematography. Whilst watching The Church, it’s very clear that cinematographer Renato Tafuri (Terror At The Opera, Stage Fright) is a very talented individual: he is incredibly skilled at framing a shot and he has a keen eye for detail, evident throughout The Church. His talents are most welcome in The Church, and he helps to make an unforgettably visual experience that makes The Church feel much more powerful than it’s contemporaries.
However, the greatest aspect of The Church may just be the film’s powerful imagery. From demonic figures to hallucination sequences, few films have the same hypnotic punch as The Church. From start to finish, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen. Like the films of David Lynch, there’s something in the vivid, nightmare inducing imagery of The Church that I can’t quite grasp, but makes it hard to look away from the screen. The film feels quite uncomfortable to watch as it continuously builds tension and throws more and more unsettling imagery at the screen, culminating in a truly unforgettable, nightmare inducing climax which features such frightening imagery such as Satan having sex with a possessed woman, the torture and painful execution of The Architect via the Pear Of Anguish, and the disturbing re-birth of Legion. Thanks to this surreal, horrifying imagery from the film’s talented special effects crew, The Church is definitely a film that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
Unfortunately, though, only the film’s opening scene and climax contain the most powerful imagery, as the film’s mid-section is ruined by the writing. The Church is a poorly written film, and as a result: the characters are incredibly under-developed and very bland, the story is incredibly slow and monotonous, and the film’s plot is quite hard to follow thanks to the over-use of said dull characters and pointless sub-plots. The film’s imagery does a lot to try and mask the film’s poor writing, but it’s still quite clear that the film would have benefited from a better screenplay, and it’s a horrific mark on what could have been a power-house of horror cinema. The Church had so much potential, but it feels like the writers – of which there were actually 8, not 3 as credited – only had a vague idea of the story that they wanted to tell, and those individual ideas were ruined by the intervention of other writers. The Church is definitely a film that needed more focus, more in-depth storytelling, but having 8 writers, each with their own ideas and creativity, will always end up hurting a film instead of creating a masterpiece (also known as the ‘too many cooks’ problem).
That being said, I feel that the film’s shocking imagery, the special effects on show, and the technical prowess behind The Church definitely makes up for the lack of good storytelling. The Church wasn’t amazing to experience, but I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy my time watching the film. It’s very flawed, but it’s still a very competent horror film. It doesn’t do anything new or innovative to the genre, but it definitely left an impression on me. In conclusion, The Church is a film that one needs to experience for themselves. It’s not one of the best, in fact I’d probably say that Michele Soavi’s previous film Stage Fright was better than The Church, but it’s a film that’s definitely worth seeing.