How The Fire Fell Dir. Edward Davee

[E.P. Davee Films; 2011]

Styles: drama, biographical drama
Others: The Master, To The Wonder

The debut feature from writer/director Edward Davee dramatizes the real-life events of a small religious cult that lived in the woods of eastern Oregon, led by a fire and brimstone preacher named Edmund Creffield. Davee though doesn’t stick to straight narrative, preferring instead to portray the strange world that Creffield created for his followers — one in which he proclaimed to be the vessel for Jesus’s second coming, in an impressionistic fashion. The dialog in the film is sparse, usually only heard as sermons from Creffield (played here by erstwhile musician Joe Haege). Almost all the other scenes are played out underneath modern classical instrumentals and edited to disorient and jar.

The directorial decisions Davee makes throughout may seem unusual or at least a little too heavily indebted to the visions of Terrence Malick or Paul Thomas Anderson post-Boogie Nights. But if you’ve ever spent time in a religious community, you will recognize the signifiers at play here. Even though the sermons that we do hear rage at the faithless and the possible heaven that awaits, the church experience is all about trying to feel some kind of ecstasy and to be removed from earthly concerns and pain for even the briefest of moments.

That’s what we see most often in this film. The women of this cult rolling on the ground in the thralls of the Holy Spirit, or dancing around a fire naked, or what looks like loud intense testimony. Even when they are having sex with Creffield (all the better to help birth the new Christ) they have the same expressions of rapt wonder.

The only concern with this approach is that the female actors here are painted into an artistic corner. It’s a fair reflection of the place of women in most churches and cults, but I couldn’t help but lament for the seen-but-not-heard women who populate the movie. And I would have loved to see them go toe-to-toe with Haege who, appropriately, dominates this film with his wild-eyed fury and slowly unraveling connection with sanity. It’s a fantastic performance worthy of the attention this film’s release into the VOD world might give it.

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