Halloween Horror 2014: Cross Bearer (2012)

Description (from the IMDb):
Heather is broke. She has a soul sucking job as a stripper. Her live-in girlfriend Victoria has a baby and a coke problem. Her boss Harry is an abusive maniac. Life cannot get much worse… or so she thought. Determined to get out of this living hell, Heather and her lover, Bunny, plan to rip off Harry, ditch Victoria, and leave town to live out their days on the Greek islands in peaceful bliss. One big score is all they need, and Harry gives them the opportunity when he asks them to take care of a drug deal with one of his clients at an old warehouse. As Heather and her friends arrive, everything seems to be going fine until they make a grizzly discovery and are trapped inside by a rambling, religious maniac hell-bent on purifying the Earth of its sins through murder and destruction. Armed with a carpenter’s hammer and a fanatic passion, the Cross Bearer hunts Heather and her friends down one-by-one in a sadistic crusade to burn clean the filth of the world. Heather’s dreams are shattered and if she survives nothing will ever be the same. Unflinchingly raw, primal, and horrifying, Cross Bearer is a trip to the darkest, most vile side of humanity.

Major Cast:
Isaac Williams as Cross Bearer, Natalie Jean as Heather, Tim Cronin as Mark, J.D. Brown as Harry, Victoria DePaul as Victoria, Kacie Marie as Bunny

Special Features:
None (Screener)
For Sale Version Includes: Over 2 ½ Hours of Special Features

Written and Directed by Adam Ahlbrandt

For my Halloween Horror 2014, I decided to visit a film that I have heard a lot of hype for. I am in a few different independent and underground horror groups on Facebook, and for months on end (while I was on hiatus from writing reviews) all I was hearing was CROSS BEARER, CROSS BEARER, CROSS BEARER. So let’s see what all that hype was about.

CB got my attention right from the opening credits by doing something I normally hate, but making me like it. The opening credits are a bunch of mirrored images of apartment buildings and the like. Usually when I see this sort of image I think “funhouse” and I’m turned off, and on the first one my brain went there, but by the 3rd or 4th they started growing on me and by the end I was sold. I don’t know why this made such an impression on me, but it did, and such a simple little effect had a whole lot of pull. Also, to throw the slasher genre norms on their head, we start by seeing our antagonist sans-mask right from the get-go. And there’s nothing supernatural about him. He’s a dude that loves the Lord and has taken that to fanatical lengths.

Nothing says "classy place for a drug fueled threesome" like a mattress on the floor next to a vespa.
Nothing says “classy place for a drug fueled threesome” like a mattress on the floor next to a vespa.

After we get away from the intro, we star getting some of the plot, and getting introduced to the characters. I was impressed to see that our protagonist is a lesbian, but yet we had no gratuitous, uncalled for lesbian sex scene. This was actually much more restrained than I had expected from this film, especially after seeing Ahlbrandt’s promo for CB (here). CB is a very interesting take on the slasher genre because there really is no truly “good guy” in this film. Sure, Heather is no serial killer or anything, but as the truly best, most wholesome person in the film it’s odd to think that she is a stripper taking part in a coke deal (that she was gonna bail on) set up by her slimy strip-club manager, and she is taking along other strippers for entertainment during said deal. This is the most “upright” character in the film, other than maybe (in his own head) Cross Bearer. So that’s our good guy; our bad guy is driven by the Lord to clean up filth, and he does so with a fucking carpenter’s hammer. That. Is. Brutal.

So simple, yet so damned creepy.
So simple, yet so damned creepy.

This movie could have easily been a throwaway piece of trash cinema that had no purpose other than showing a bunch of gore. And, to be honest, that’s not really TOO far off the truth. But what Ahlbrandt has done to lift it out of that gory gutter is to take serious steps to make the film FEEL big budget. The film itself is beautifully shot on what is obviously a HD or ultra-HD camera, with solid command of the skills it takes to wrangle said camera into creating beautiful pictures. Sure, the subject matter shown is very often far from beautiful, but it is always beautifully shot, with a deep depth of focus and wonderful composition of images throughout. This is more than aptly complimented by the lighting in the film. I really have to say that I was incredibly impressed with the lighting (and color correction), which ranged from naturalistic outdoor shots to something not far off from SUSPIRIA. The production value of this low-budget film is also boosted leaps and bounds by the sound design. From the dialogue recording to the oh-so-gross foley, to the score, everything sound-wise is immaculate. In addition to all that are the all-practical visual effects provided by Doug Sakmann, which are pretty damned gross. CB is just a great example of taking all the steps needed to make a movie look like a million bucks when it is much more modest than that.

Some of the amazing light work
Some of the amazing light work

The quality production design is bolstered by the quality in the acting and directing. Sure, you probably have not heard of anyone on the cast list, but the vast majority of the players in this film do a well-above-average job for a film of this budget and substance. The acting is exalted by the directing, and the directing brings out the acting. You can feel the love between Heather and Bunny, you can feel the crazy in Anton, you can see the fear in… well… everyone, and you can feel the righteous indignation the Cross Bearer is fueled by. It’s rare to see a film at this level that doesn’t have a few really shitty actors in it, but I just couldn’t find them in CB. Sure, the second and third strings of characters aren’t as strong as the leads, but even when we get into things like little throwaway scenes, there is solid acting and directing to be found.

I guess really my only big negative when it comes to CB s just the fact that I really didn’t care much for, or about, the majority of the characters. Heather had some emotional drama, and vicariously that lead me to care what happened to Bunny as well, but for the rest of the cattle to the slaughter, that is really about how much I cared about them. Cattle. They were just there to get killed. There were a few fun scenes here and there (especially the discussion of trash cinema in the car outside the warehouse… if you didn’t know what to expect in this film, that scene really laid it all bare for you), but overall the characters did not make me like – or strongly DISlike – them. Sure they’re a bit slimy, but then again you don’t expect boy scouts to make porn for their own private collections or girl scouts to be coke-dealing strippers. But they’re neither SO good, nor SO bad, that I really had little feeling either way when Cross Bearer came to call. In order to have a strong reaction when a character dies, I need to like that character. What I got from CB was a lot more visceral, gut feeling of “ooh that’s gross” than “oh, that sucks” because I actually cared what happened.

What a party!
What a party!

Overall, CB lived up to the hype. It is not the masterpiece that some of the people in the groups I am constantly laud it as, but it is a super solid entry into the independent horror canon. Cross Bearer is a creepy slasher character, and with a very simple getup he evokes visual dread. The film is extremely well made, and beautiful to watch, even when it gets real ugly. This is one of those movies that I actually liked so much that I am not satisfied with the screener copy, and went out and bought a DVD of because I want to support this person’s future endeavors, and if you are a fan of the more brutal end of the horror spectrum you should be supporting it as well. Very well done.

Overall 7.5 / 10

CB on the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1825728/

CB for sale: http://toetag.biz/product/cross-bearer

CB site: http://crossbearermovie.com/

Cross Bearer (2012)
Cross Bearer (2012)
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