New Horror Releases: Tabernacle 101 (2019) - Reviewed

Religious themes and iconography, and the skepticism that comes with that, are staples of the horror genre. There are countless examples of films where some brash, unlikable fool goes into a haunted house to disprove the supernatural, only to go through hell and ultimately be proven wrong. Writer/Director Colm OMurchu mines this well worn territory in his latest effort, Tabernacle 101, to some wonderfully bizarre and unintentionally hilarious results.

Atheist and internet celebrity, Frank (David Hov), makes a living vlogging and blogging about the supernatural. More specifically, debunking it. He travels around to supposedly haunted places and interviews mediums, with the sole purpose of making fools of them. His business partner and girlfriend, Sarah (Elly Hiraani Clapin), is a scientist working on an experiment wherein she lethally injects guinea pigs and revives them, wanting to see the results. Eager to prove that theres no life after death, Frank undergoes this experiment while live streaming to his millions of subscribers. Predictably, things go wrong, a portal to the after life is opened and Franks skepticism is put through the wringer. 

If this sounds like Flatliners for the Youtube generation, well, thats because it is. Its too easy to critique a film based on the Its *blank* but with *blank* instead of *blank*” argument but in this case, the comparisons are unavoidable. Heres the thing, its ok to be like another film. In a medium thats over 100 years old, its almost silly to think ideas wont be used, reused and used again. Its how you execute the reuse that matters. Thankfully, the directionTabernacle 101 decides to go results in a truly wild experience. Its an experience that doesnt exactly work but this thing does a lot along the way.

The film is a tonal mess. Does it want to be a horror movie? Well, there are some pretty terrific scenes of Frank wading through horrifying hallucinations. But then, out of nowhere, Frank goes out into the world and starts healing people with a glowing hand? So Franks journey into death not only unleashed demons into the world but also turned him into Jesus Christ, himself? Ok! 

Its fantastically bizarre, doesnt really explain all that much and just kind rolls along at a decent clip. At a certain point, youre just staring slack jawed as Frank, now Youtube Jesus, is battling Demons who look like bouncers at a third rate night club, so he can stop them from getting a virus off of the dark web which would give them access to the worlds nuclear codes. One could be forgiven for wondering just how the hell we got from Atheist wants to disprove Religion” to, well, this.

Its almost preferable that this film takes the route it does because for much of its run time, the acting and dialogue are almost Wiseau-level bad. The characters themselves are so cartoonishly awful and often take you out of the movie because nobody acts like these people. Franks arc from skeptic to believer is basically non-existent and his former partners on his vlog do not take it well. So much so that the minute he becomes a believer, his girlfriend immediately dumps him and starts Skyping him while making out with a new guy. Its moments like this where theres a creeping sense of dread that youre watching some weird, propaganda piece about how skeptics have no moral values and that religion is the only way forward. 

Its easy to savage a movie that clearly has a low budget like this. Theres also something a bit irresponsible about its overall message. The idea that atheism is a moral deficiency plays kind of poorly. This essentially being an origin story for a modern day Jesus-as-superhero is awful. Theres even a sequel setup! However, Tabernacle 101 is too bonkers of a movie to ignore. Youll roll your eyes at the obviousness of it all, Christian, Atheist or otherwise. But, instead of delivering a tacky message about the power of belief, youre treated to a deliciously fun ride as a modern day Jesus fights Cyber Crime enthusiast Demons. Stick with this one because if you love trash cinema, the second half rewards your patience just enough that youll be happy youll saw it. 

-Brandon Streussnig