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Credo (Toni Harman, 2008)
I've gotten a string of pretty crappy low-budget horror flicks recently, and thus Credo was something of a surprise. It doesn't quite get the whole "here's how you set up a twist ending" thing down, but it's well-acted and atmospheric, and it's obvious someone put some real thought into this script.
Plot: five friends get kicked out of their London flat after a party turns sour. There's Alice (The Descent's MyAnna Buring), the studious one, who spends all her time cramming for finals; party-boy Jock (The Matrix Reloaded's Clayton Watson), an American exchange student whose antics got them thrown out in the first place; Jazz (The Bill regular Rhea Bailey), Jock's sometime girlfriend; Scott (The Complete Map of the Universe's Mark Joseph), an electronics whiz with a horrible crush on Alice; and Timmy (Just Ines' Nathalie Pownall), Alice's best friend. Alice, of course, retreats to the library instead of looking for another place to stay, but when it closes and she's sitting in an all night coffee shop, she gets a call from Scott saying Jock has found them another place to stay. Turns out he has a friend who does security at an abandoned monastery where, urban legend has it, five divinity students tried to summon Belial, after which four committed suicide (or the demon made it look that way) and the fifth went crazy. Needless to say, there's a reason the place has stood abandoned since...
Credo is Harman's only feature film; she normally makes direct-to-video how-to stuff about baby and child care. Which makes this even more surprising, and makes me wonder if I don't give the actors enough credit sometimes for the quality of a film; perhaps as long as you have a competent team behind the cameras, it all comes down to how good your acting talent is. And so you take a low-budget horror film and stock it with competent behind-the-scenes staff and then load up on decent-to-really-really-good acting talent and you come up with something that should really be a winner. For some reason, the Brits seem to excel at this (Long Time Dead and Lie Still immediately come to mind), and Credo is another good example. When it comes right down to it, the effectiveness of the atmosphere was pretty easy to pull off; you just keep things half-dark (thankfully, lighting techs Martyn Culan and Joel Rainsley understand the difference between keeping things dark and making this too murky to actually see; this is little surprise, given that Culpan has recently worked on slightly bigger-budget films like The King's Speech and Four Brothers) and add some spooky sounds and hey, instant atmosphere. What makes it work, or not, is how the characters react to it, and as long as you've got good enough actors, you're gold. Similar, you've got this script, and it's pretty darned good, and you throw bad actors at it, they're going to mess up the timing and delivery and all that jazz. You get actors who can really understand it and, well, you get this.
I should mention that a number of people seem disappointed/confused by the ending. You'll need to pay attention, and it is designed to be confusing there for a few minutes, but it makes absolute sense once you think about it. (Hint: take the first sequence at face value, and then pay very close attention to the last spoken line in the film, a flashback to an earlier scene, which explains the entire mechanism.) We're not talking timeless cinema here, but taken for what it is, it's quite good. ***
Originally, I was going to give it two and a half stars. Then I saw the ending, it was a complete cop out. I think the filmmakers conversation went a little like this: Director, "We need a way to end this thing without it costing us a lot of money." Writer, "Well, we could always put in a cliche ending. It will be a complete surprise to the audience because it doesn't fit with the story."
Also released in the US as "The Devil's Curse." "Credo" follows a group of college students who get tossed out of their apartment and crash in an abandoned Catholic school dormitory, the previous residents of which conjured up a demon 10 years before. The demon may still be lurking in the house, and before long nooses appear and the college students start committing suicide. The demon can manipulate minds, and it exploits the students' insecurities to drive them to kill themselves.
Neither particularly good nor particularly bad, "Credo" is a watchable but neither exciting nor thought-provoking. There's very little blood and only a little bit of nudity. The demon itself never makes an appearance, and the conclusion of the film may imply that it never existed at all. Aside from liberal swearing, this doesn't deserve an R rating; it's really a PG-13. What violence there is takes place almost exclusively off-screen; we only see the aftermath except for one instance. "Credo" does build some good tension late in its run and there's are one or two scares, but it's otherwise rather mild stuff. The acting's not bad, but the story is nothing horror fans haven't seen before and it takes quite a long time to get moving.
It's OK. One could do worse or better than "Credo," and most veterans of the supernatural horror genre will doubtlessly find it a forgettable movie.
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