Release Date(s)2016 (November 3, 2020)
Studio(s)Blumhouse Productions/Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
The Veil is inspired by the 1978 Jonestown massacre, in which more than 900 people committed suicide. The film combines psychological horror with a ghost story and includes many scenes of violence. It has an interesting premise, which distinguishes it from slasher flicks and monsters-on-the-loose movies, but the execution is troublesome.
The film begins in the 1980s. Jim Jacobs (Thomas Jane) was the leader of the Heaven’s Veil compound. He and his followers experimented with various substances to find a place of enlightenment, including swallowing deadly poison and injecting an antidote just before the poison took full effect. In 1985, a mass suicide left only a single survivor, a young child named Sarah.
Three decades later, filmmaker Maggie (Jessica Alba) becomes intrigued by the event. She arranges to make a documentary about the compound and tries to persuade Sarah (Lily Rabe) to participate. Though initially reluctant, Sarah ultimately agrees to accompany Maggie and her crew to the scene of the carnage. Being there forces Sarah to confront deeply repressed memories. Maggie and her crew locate a set of 8-millimeter films shot by Jacobs to document his unorthodox experiments.
The Veil is two stories unfolding simultaneously—Maggie, Sarah, and the film crew on location to make a documentary, and Jacobs and his cultish hold on a group of trusting individuals. The overall narrative blends the two as it shows the relationship of one to the other.
The build-up is fairly leisurely, with considerable exposition related through the old films. Director Phil Joanou creates a sense of foreboding as footage shown of Jacobs’ films becomes increasingly disturbing and strange incidents escalate among the filmmakers. He sets up the story effectively and piques our interest, but then goes off the rails and takes the film into cliche territory with jump scares and extreme violence and characters dwindling in number. When the film veers from eerie mystery to something more supernatural, the result is confusion about what is happening to the characters.
Shot on a low budget in a single location, The Veil often displays nice artistic touches, such as an overall desaturated look that gives the proceedings a ghostly veneer. Low but constant background music also gives the scenes an otherworldly feel. The three principal performances are strong, each in a unique way, providing the film with gravity.
Jessica Alba conveys Maggie’s near-obsession with looking into the mass suicide as it’s revealed that her fascination is prompted by more than curiosity. In charge, she perseveres until overwhelmed by forces she cannot explain. Rabe’s Sarah has a haunted, faraway look, as if she’s never gotten over the trauma of seeing so many people die in front of her. She believes visiting the location where the horror took place will be a reckoning of sorts—a way to exorcise the demons that plague her.
Thomas Jane is genuinely scary as Jim Jacobs, whose drug-induced experiments flirt with life and death. His acolytes are like sheep and follow without question or hesitation. They trust him, believe in his attempt to pass through a “golden door” to heightened awareness, and patiently await their turn to join him. Whether a madman, zealot, or egocentric monster, Jacobs is dangerous. As portrayed by Jane, Jacobs is a riveting screen presence.
The Veil is a decent, if sometimes murky, horror film. A mixed bag with its original premise, fine performances, and silly horror flick tropes, it’s not easy to categorize. Will horror fans like it? Maybe, if they’re patient with the exposition. Will those who prefer cerebral horror enjoy it? Partly, I think, though they may get short of patience with jump scares and bloody violence. The screenplay by Robert Ben Garant relies on various characters making poor decisions, an unrealistic, tired, overused means to advance the plot.
Featuring 1080p resolution, the Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents the film in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The film’s color has been intentionally desaturated to give everything a ghostly look. The found film of Jacobs’ experiments was shot on 16-millimeter to differentiate it visually from the main story. Shot amid large, looming trees in a remote area, the film has a claustrophobic feel. When characters use flashlights in the dark, the beams illuminate only small areas at a time, leaving large sections of the frame in blackness, which creates tension. The beams playing over various objects heightens suspense, since we never know what the beams will reveal. When the crew gathers around a fire outside the cabin, they are surrounded by total darkness, giving them a vulnerable appearance since nothing beyond them can be seen. Often, characters enter dark places, both inside and outside the cabin, rendering them vulnerable to dangers that may lurk.
The soundtrack is English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. Dialogue is crisp and easy to understand. Sound mixing is excellent, with the undercurrent of low creepy music, sound effects, dialogue, and ambient sound well blended, often providing the requisite atmospheric feel. A beaded curtain moves by itself, the beads clicking ominously. Sounds associated with violent scenes add to the horror, and demon-like voices emanating from crew members bring chills through horror of the familiar.
Bonus materials on the R-rated Blu-ray release include director’s audio commentary and a series of theatrical trailers.
Audio Commentary – Director Phil Joanou describes The Veil as a formula horror film. It was shot at a single location on a low budget ($3.5 million) in 25 days—half the shooting schedule of most films. The shoot averaged 21 set-ups per day. On peak days, there were over 100 shots. The Veil was originally intended to be a “found footage” film, but by the time it was ready to shoot, found-film horror movies had run their course. The script was shifted to traditional storytelling, using the found footage as flashbacks. The opening was shot in 16-millimeter, since it’s supposed to be footage shot by Jim Jacobs himself. Joanou acknowledges that with more time, the film’s structure could have been stronger. The resulting film is a hybrid, combining found footage with standard narrative. The director speaks about specific cameras and lenses used to achieve certain effects, noting the difference between simulating found footage and filming traditionally (with master shot, close-ups, and over-the-shoulder shots). Though much of the filming was a “frustrating experience,” Joanou was blessed with a great cast. About 20% of the film was never shot. More aggressive horror elements were in the script, but revealed too much too soon. The location was an Indian reservation in Thousand Oaks, California. Certain scenes had to be re-staged on location. The director observes about the characters that “they make their fatal horror film mistake. They go back to the scene of the crime.” He’s not sure if the film works on a first viewing and adds that it was the hardest shoot he was ever on. “It was a very bittersweet experience.” Rarely does a director talk about his shortcomings in audio commentaries, so it’s to Joanou’s credit that he’s willing to look at The Veil objectively.
Theatrical Trailers – The following trailers are included: The Veil, Stretch, and Thursday.
– Dennis Seuling