February 5, 2007
Originally made in 2002 and mysteriously released on DVD in North America in 2007, The Gathering is a British horror film in the tradition of The Wicker Man (1973) and The Omen (1976). The police uncover the remnants of a church built in the first century after a young couple discovered it and were killed for their troubles in a freak accident. During a rainy day, a mother (Fox) accidentally runs into Cassie Grant (Ricci), an American backpacker, with her car. Surprisingly, the young woman has only minor injuries and the guilt-ridden mother takes her in to her home in the small village of Ashby Wake. There, Cassie meets the rest of the family – the two children, Michael (Forrester) and Emma (Mann) and the husband, Simon (Dillane), who, incidentally, happens to be the researcher investigating the church ruins.
Cassie gets cozy with the family, making the kids breakfast and taking them to school and, in particular, develops a strong bond with Michael who appears in visions she experiences. They often involve images of the townsfolk being killed, including a jarring image of her doctor with blood pouring out of his mouth. Later that night, she sees an evil looking dog barking outside. The people in the town start acting strange around her, in a threatening and unsettling way.
Meanwhile, we learn more about the church including one startling fact – the centerpiece features a stone sculpture of the crucifixion done by someone who may have actually been there. Why was the church buried in what appears to be done in a deliberate way and how is it linked to Cassie’s visions? The Gathering weaves an intriguing mystery of this buried church and how it affects the inhabitants of the nearby village.
Christina Ricci does a fine job as an inquisitive woman plagued by nightmarish visions and she certainly fares better here than in the flawed Hollywood horror film, Cursed (2005), playing a strong, proactive character who we join in piecing together the mystery of this long-buried church.
Screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, a veteran of British television (including several episodes of Poirot and Murder in Mind), takes an old chestnut of people refusing to leave unpleasant things well alone (especially when it pertains to ancient evil) and conceptualizes it in a fresh, new way. There are lots of spooky premonitions, creepy townsfolk, atmospheric English countryside and a dark, secretive history that are staples of the British horror genre but they are presented by director Brian Gilbert (responsible for such fine fare as Tom & Viv and Wilde) in a straightforward way reminiscent of the classic Hammer horror films directed by Terence Fisher. At times, The Gathering does seem to be channeling The Omen, complete with a demonic looking dog and carefully orchestrated gruesome deaths brought on by the supernatural but where it deviates is in its intriguing concept. What happened to the people who witnessed Christ being crucified? Not the ones who looked in horror or sadness but with morbid curiousity? What if these people were condemned to spend eternity being present at other horrific moments in history? The Gathering takes this notion and runs with it in an entertaining and engaging way that sets it apart from most of the other horror films that have come out in the last year.