‘The VelociPastor’ Bites

by Warren Cantrell on August 14, 2019

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Rock Fist Way Down]

Trash cinema is a tough nut to crack, and when it works, it’s because of one crucial component: the filmmaker earnestly believes they are making something great. Manos: Hands of Fate, Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Room: all of them were lovingly crafted by artists who KNEW they were making something special. Yet when a movie steers into this skid and aims for the ironically bad, the joy vanishes. Such is the case for The VelociPastor, which takes a fun concept and squanders it beneath an avalanche of bad sound editing, unfocused acting, shoddy script work, and a half-assed approach to the production that comes through in every aspect of the film.

But this is a movie about a priest that transforms into a velociraptor, so one shouldn’t expect a William Goldman script and Streep/De Niro level acting, right? Well, yeah: sure. But there’s no reason for things to be this bad, and sweet merciful Christ is this one lousy. Speaking of Jesus, The VelociPastor opens in a Catholic church, where Father Doug (Gregory James Cohan) is hosting mass one day when he witnesses his parents’ murder via a car bomb. The experience rattles Father Doug, who heads to China for a vacation at the urging of a friend to clear his head. While in China (which looks like every other exterior in this film), Fr. Doug happens upon a young woman who accidentally cuts him with a dinosaur fossil before dying in his arms.

When Fr. Doug returns to the U.S., he learns that this encounter has imbued him with a werewolf-like condition, but instead of a bloodthirsty man-beast, he morphs into a Velociraptor. When his first transformation occurs, Fr. Doug saves the life of a local sex worker named Carol (Alyssa Kempinski), who then teams up with the priest to bring prehistoric justice to sinners everywhere. Low-budget murder and a workout montage follow, and despite the jump in logic necessary for one to understand why a person who transforms into a dinosaur needs to cross-train, the film flows well enough. Like The Boondock Saints meets An American Werewolf in London, the movie does have a kernel of interesting material at its center, but that’s where the positive elements dry up.

If writer/director/editor Brendan Steere had corralled the scope of his film to just this little universe and taken it seriously, it might have done okay for itself, yet as The VelociPastor gets sidetracked by subplots about Chinese ninjas (ninjas are Japanese, btw), international cocaine conspiracies, and entirely unnecessary Vietnam War sequences, things go off the rails. Fr. Doug’s mentor, Fr. Stewart (Daniel Steere), gets to put his especially bad acting on extended display for a shoddy flashback that looks like it was pulled from another, even lower budget, film. The presentation of the movie’s big-bad is also so comically awful that it stops being funny and lands on sad: the villainous laugh moments so far removed from parody that it seems to forget what it’s even aiming for.  

Yet the failures aren’t found in just the basic, structural components of the narrative, but in the technical execution as well. The sound editing leaves a lot to be desired, and in a film held together with this much elbow grease and duct tape, sound shouldn’t dip out with every cut in a scene. And while Kempinski does shockingly good work in her limited role, everyone else, to a person, is so ham-fistedly awful in front of the camera that it actually becomes distracting. It’s a failing shared with Steere, however, for as bad as the acting is, the dialogue and “go big” direction make it all exponentially worse.

Again, it’s okay to make low-budget, trash films, but when the director and actors are in on the joke, a crucial trust component is lost. Audiences engage with theater, T.V., or cinema with an understanding that what they’re seeing is fake, yet presented earnestly. In other words, a person enters into this visual social contract with an understanding that what they’re being shown is meant to entertain them: that it has all been crafted and produced as such. When a film abandons this pretense, and sets out to make something deliberately shoddy, this trust is lost, and if there’s nothing else at play (satire, parody, irony) all that’s left is base exhibitionism.

The VelociPastor is just that: cheap spectacle wrapped in the veneer of something accidentally special. Like a toddler who says something cute in a spontaneous moment, but then keeps repeating it to elicit the same effect, this film comes off as deliberate and disingenuous. There’s creativity on display here, to be sure, and what feels like a genuine desire to entertain, but the method and intent have gotten all crossed up and muddled in the execution.

Opening today on VOD after making a small name for itself on the festival circuit, The VelociPastor is all cheap thrills without the fun. A deliberate attempt to craft something so bad that it’s good, the film skips the hard work of character, story, and production design to half-ass a final product that counts on its audience’s concession that all sins will be forgiven if the core idea is zany enough. Had the movie taken itself a little more seriously, it might have pulled this trick off, but reliant as it is on its own shoddy assemblage and execution, it lands with a thud: proof that life doesn’t always “find a way.” Indeed, Steere seemed so preoccupied with whether or not he could make this movie, he didn’t stop to think if he should.  

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.


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