The Parish

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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The Parish  (2019, dir: David S. Hogan; script: Todd Downing; cast: Angela DiMarco, Sanae Loutsis, Lucas Oktay, Gin Hammond, Bill Oberst Jr.)





Twenty years ago, The Sixth Sense, The Ring, and The Grudge revitalized the ghost film, redefining it with new tropes and visuals. Until then, with rare exceptions, ghosts were diaphanous spirits that did little other than scare people. In the 2000s, they turned gruesome and violent.

But since then, and apart from a few original gems like Insidious, ghost films have mostly just sleep-walked through the motions, repeating scenes from the past twenty years.

The Parish is one of these somnolent efforts, well made but unoriginal. Its cinematography, sound, and visual effects are slickly professional. But the story is nothing we haven't seen many times before. There are no surprises. Worse, the attempts at scares are tepid.

Liz (Angela DiMarco, who I liked much better in The Last Laugh) is a single mother who moves into a new house, in a new town, with her daughter, Audrey (Sanae Loutsis). Why Liz moved "a thousand miles" from San Diego to small town Washington is never made clear. Yeah, her husband died, but why move?

Naturally, Audrey hates the house, hates the town, hates her school. Mother and daughter squabble, though there is much love. Sound familiar?

Audrey befriends a new boy at school, Caleb (Lucas Oktay). Horror fans will quickly guess that Caleb is a ghost. Shyamalan cleverly hid that Bruce Willis was a ghost in The Sixth Sense, but The Parish doesn't even try to hide it. When Liz can't find Caleb in the school basement, early in the film, we can guess why. Later, when Liz tells a teacher that Audrey is outside talking to Caleb, and the teacher says that Audrey is alone, we are not surprised.

The villain of The Parish is Sister Beatrice's ghost (Gin Hammond), but she barely has any screen time. She's seen a few times from a distance, but doesn't really enter the film until the last ten minutes. Father Felix (Bill Oberst Jr.) engages in a hurried exorcism. Sister Beatrice retaliates with a few well-crafted but unoriginal visual effects -- and then poof! -- she is gone.



I think Sister Beatrice's ghost is supposed to be a metaphor for Liz's own personal demons -- her grief over losing her husband, her guilt over uprooting her daughter from her home town. Father Felix often tells Liz about the need to work through our grief, that it can't be suppressed. Father Felix ends the film with a similar speech, as he gifts Liz the crucifix he used to exorcise Sister Beatrice.

The Parish spends way too much time on these domestic issues at the expense of creating any horror. Too much context, too little payoff.

At 81 minutes, The Parish is a short feature, but it felt much longer. Like a mediocre film that you've seen before. You know what's going to happen, you aren't especially excited to see it again, but there's not much else to do right now.



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