Directed by: Michael Doyle
Starring: Grant Bayliss, Richie Baillie, Timothy Davies, Michael Doyle, John Anders
Short Film Review by: Kirsty Asher
The Old Believer is a horror film that slinks darkly through the mysterious world of primeval witchcraft and religious fear, with the added element of military force. The Siberian setting and the first image of a Russian Orthodox crucifix burning hellishly in the night is a haunting establishment of primeval misdoing and evil. The story is that of an elite special forces team hunting in the deepest Siberian forests for a witch who supposedly knows the whereabouts of the gates of Hell. It is a test of survival, and those who take part are doing so under pressure from the Church, which cleverly ties in themes of Biblical tests of strength and resilience. Many have succumbed, and those who don’t make are shown trapped in an inner turmoil, seemingly driven insane to the point that they brutally end their own lives.
Our primary hero, the soldier, Vince, is played by the writer Grant Bayliss, whose real-life military background makes for an impressive and realistic performance as the man selected to endure the wilderness and find the source of Hell. He is pursued, like the other soldiers before him, by a truly sinister being which stalks Vince through the spindled forest with sinister relentlessness. The music is a teeming mixture of religious keening, reversed vocals, and woozy synths and it’s a brilliant tool for creating the necessary tension in Vince’s journey. The soundtrack combined with the imagery invokes some genuinely chilling moments. With the darkness cloaking Vince as he is pursued by the bone-white entity, it is stiflingly claustrophobic and intense to watch.
There were however some sound issues with the recordings in the church scene, when a clergyman (Michael Doyle) and a mysterious hooded figure (John Anders) inform Vince of his mission. Although fairly well acted, and shot on location in a beautiful Norman church, the scene is overlaid with recorded dialogue that sounds grainy and at times muffled. The storyline itself remains slightly unclear at times and there are questions raised which go unanswered: what is the organisation known as Doom? What does their symbol and its motto mean? The film is described by the director as “a passion film art project which continues to evolve and expand its horrifying world” which suggests further extensions to this project in the future. Considering the highly impressive cinematography and editing of this short and its original take on a witchcraft horror story it would be intriguing to see how this project progresses in the future. This is clearly a creative meeting of minds, and the short stands as a strong entry in the indie horror genre.