Movie Review - The VelociPastor
If you’re a fan of watching how films get made, this word comes up a lot, usually from producers and never in a positive way.
The thing is, most movie watchers, including myself, are used to either the big budget Hollywood blockbuster productions, mid-level studio fare, indie features that run from low to mid-level budgets and then lastly low budget filmmaking that’s home to either indie darlings or the schlockmeisters of direct to video. [We say that with love, BTW. – Ed.]
Micro-budget is an entirely new beast to me though.
For those that have been doing movie reviews or commentary for a long time, this world is old hat as best illustrated by The Last Drive-In’s season 3 double feature of Sledgehammer and Things, both hailing from the VHS era of the 80s…the Iron Mutant Challenge that work hosed me out of participating in. Eventually going through these films though, a challenge it was. While yes, time and technology has improved, there’s something about watching something shot on video, a seemingly clearer yet less refined image, that can be jarring.
Anyway, why all the blathering exposition? Well, thanks to a request from a friend of the site, we’re taking a look at The VelociPastor, a film that had been in my watch pile for almost three years now and yes, this will be our first review of something I’d definitely call micro-budget. Seriously, I can’t imagine they spent any more than $500 to throw this together. [The Google is here to correct you sir, they spent $36,000. You owe them an apology! – Ed.] But hey, let’s not be elitist. Limitations aside, does it hold up? Let’s take a look, but first, the synopsis:
A priest undergoes a crisis of faith when his parents are killed right in front of him. To find himself once again, he travels to China only to have his life changed in a chance encounter: a fleeing woman passes on to him the Curse of The Dragon Warrior. Upon his return home, Doug is faced with a new challenge, how can he channel this newfound hunger and remain a man of God? The Lord works in mysterious ways as a local prostitute might just have the answers and purpose he needs. But can he walk this razor’s edge forever, especially when new facts about his parents’ murder come to light? And a long-lost brother? And freaking ninjas?
If you’re new to this style of filmmaking, The VelociPastor is a great place to start, because it remains fully aware of its budget constraints, knows that it’s likely to be made fun of for them and thus, steers hard into the skid. You’re going to see this within the first five minutes of the movie, where Doug’s parents are killed in a car explosion that the production definitely couldn’t afford. While other micro-budget films, such as those from SRS Cinema, would try to shoehorn in some lame computer graphics on caliber with old-school PS1 cutscene graphics and renders, writer/director Brendan Steere doesn’t even remotely try to con the audience, there’s simply the words hanging in the air ‘VFX Shot: Exploding Car’…and it’s amazing, my first of many deep belly laughs.
Since we’re on the topic of effects, let’s start there. The gore here is, for the most part, pretty solid, especially given what they had to work with. The severed arms look good, for example, while stabs and puncture wounds are simple and effective. With some scenes, there’s definitely a Sam Raimi influence with gallons of blood splatter, but come on, that’s never a bad thing! The only effect I really had much of a gripe with, if I were being serious about it, was a decapitation near the end. Yes, it’s clearly a mannequin head but given the context of the film up to that point, I think I’d have been disappointed if it had been a more complex or realistic gag. It almost HAS to be a mannequin otherwise, what’s the point? But of course, you’re not worried about that. You want me to talk about the velociraptor effects. How’s the transformation? Well, if our discussion so far hasn’t tipped you off, you can rest easy, there’s no cheap CG here either…but if you’re wondering if they sank their budget into the titular character, trying to pull off the coolest velociraptor that around $36,000 can buy, well…I gotta be honest, I don’t know what the going rate is for a slightly torn rubber suit, but it’s absolutely what it needed to be: realistic enough to know that they tried all the while reminding you that they didn’t have the money to try real hard either.
As I sit here writing this, I find myself still struggling to figure out how to convey the story to you. Sure, I covered the bare bones of it in the synopsis and I certainly don’t want to give anything away. I guess the best thing I can say is that it’s a little snowball of madness. It starts small and manageable at the beginning of the film, but as it continues down the mountain, it gets bigger and bigger, more and more over the top until by the end of the film, shit has just gone completely out of control and then…roll credits. This is honestly an important thing, because if you let the movie get too far off the rails, the joke gets very bad very quick. And you can feel that starting to happen toward the end of The VelociPastor, but again, Steere cuts it off right as we’re getting ready to exit ludicrous and enter dumb.
Let’s spend a moment on the cast. The main characters here, Greg Cohan as the titular VelociPastor, Doug Jones (one can’t help but wonder if this name was a tip of the hat to one of the more prominent monster/make-up actors of current cinema) and Alyssa Kempinski as prostitute Carol do a fine job in carrying the film. There’s a little cheese here and there from both, but nothing that screams ‘get these untalented hacks off the screen’ that you might find in similar micro-budget fare. The supporting cast here is solid for the most part. Daniel Steere’s Father Stewart is who you’ll see the most and while his performance can waffle a bit, he’s a steady metric throughout the film, the actor the other supporting cast should be judged by. That said, Doug’s parents and ‘Nam soldier Ali prove to be low points and slightly cringe-worthy while special kudos need to go out for Fernando Pacheco De Castro’s Frankie Mermaid, Carol’s pimp, for a short, over-the-top performance that prepares you completely for the madness that awaits you here.
I think the thing I love the most about The VelociPastor is that its vibe is exactly what you’d hope for in a micro-budget film: ‘Hey, we’ve got the equipment, let’s get all our friends together and make a movie’. It doesn’t try to be any more than it is: a crazy idea that gets even crazier with absolutely zero cash to make any of this believable. So, here’s the thing you gotta ask yourself before you pop this disc in or load it up on the streaming service of your choice: Are you okay with the same midwestern woods standing in for China, Vietnam and the town’s park? Can you handle a Christian order of ninjas trying to get people hooked on cocaine in a plan for global domination? Sure, you might be thinking I’m making this shit up, but I assure you, it’s in here. If you’re game for that, you’re going to enjoy The VelociPastor. If not, then head back into the safer waters of movies with a little more cash to work with.
The only real negative I can come up with for the film, the one thing that was consistently annoying, was the music for the film. I get that they’re likely from local bands, or bands that were friends of the director…and it’s not like they were ALL bad, but most songs warranted an ‘ugh’ reaction from me. Meh, maybe I’m being too harsh, but definitely a low point for me.
The VelociPastor has enough crazy ideas mixed with the right amount of ‘can do’ attitude that, if you’re ready to meet it on its own terms, you’ll find a little gem of a flick right here. But if you’re a cinema snob? I highly suggest you look elsewhere, this isn’t for you. It’s not perfect, and I’d love to see Steere and company tackle this with much more cash, but the positives here more than earn the film a Happy Cat rating!
A big thanks to Shawn for finally forcing me to sit down and watch this!