Starring Jessica Alba, Lily Rabe and Thomas Jane The Veil is a slow plodding horror film based very transparently, on the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana. In this tale, written by Robert Ben Garant and directed by Phil Joanou the Jones character is called Jim Jacobs and there is only one survivor; Sarah Hope.
Unlike the real event Jacobs and several of the most devout have a darker “God” and no-one drinks “Flavor-aid.”
The charismatic but aggressive Jacobs (Jane) is seen in flashback, through the mind of Hope (Rabe) and via archive camera footage, and a video tape found at the leader’s special residence on the compound.
The Veil moves at a snail’s pace. The documentary film crew, led by Maggie Price (Alba), are lethargic and seemingly uninterested in the mundane task of searching for clues as to what happened on the day.
Hope was a child when the 900 followers of Jacobs’ cult died and she is the group’s guide. Jacobs’ “church” feels more of a Spiritualist movement than an actual religion where its followers worship coming back from the dead rather than going to heaven.
Jane’s cult leader is at turns charming, funny, angry and violent. At one point the man beats a follower to death with a hammer. The dead man then arises as Jacobs bellows the command to return and the followers are convinced of his power.
There are a few scenes that actually scare the viewer, one being a rotting corpse acting very un-corpse like. The body count is not too high and the there is a lack of overt gore, although there is one scene with Rabe’s character that is impressively gross.
The whole film feels very “Blair Witch” but without the squabbling and found footage aspect. Granted there is the use of “found footage” but it is used as research, not too unlike the 2012 horror film Sinister.
The Veil is dark, almost sepia colored with an even darker texture to each scene from in the found footage sequences. The present day scenes feature more in terms of color but the the lighting is still shadowy and gloomy.
At 93 minutes, the film feels longer. Despite this dragging on affect, it is watchable, if for no other reason than to get to the punchline, or payoff. The film follows a “And Then There Were None” (the film version of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians”) motif with the documentary film makers being killed off one by one.
Reincarnation and karma seem to play a factor in the cult’s belief system although the end of the film reveals a more sinister take on their religion. Jane is mesmerizing and terrifying as the cult leader but there is not nearly enough of the actor to make the film truly scary.
Rabe does her usual job of being convincing no matter what role she plays.
The Veil is Alba’s third horror film. Her last was the western remake of the superlative Pang Bros film The Eye. The “Sin City” actress underplays her role and while this grounds the film somewhat it also makes the character less empathetic at the end.
Overall the film uses mechanizations from other movies. It does have, for example, quite a lot in common with The Skeleton Key in terms of swapping out bodies (the reason that Jacobs wants the children saved is not down to kindness but because he needs their “shells”).
The Veil is a 3.5 star film. It could have been more but the plodding pace killed off much of the suspense. Thomas Jane chews up the scenery in great chunks while Alba and Rabe underplay their roles. Despite not being the top name on the credit’s list, Jane makes this film his.
Streaming on Netflix at the moment, The Veil is certainly worth a look but not two.