Leroy Kincaide, writer and director of The Last Rite, has had a varied work career. First he worked as an undertaker, before leaving that profession to become a wrestler on the WWE UK roster, then after ten years of that job, he moved on to become a filmmaker. The Last Rite is Kincaide’s first full-length feature film and the result of years of hard work and has already caught the attention of the FrightFest team as, in addition to screening his film at the festival as part of the First Blood strand, Kincaide himself has been nominated for the event’s Genre Rising Star Award. Kincaide’s creation is a story of demonic possession, but one that does its best to distance itself from as many of the tropes of the sub-genre as it can.
Lucy (Bethan Waller) has recently moved in with her boyfriend Ben (Johnny Fleming), and whilst things have been fairly plain sailing, she suddenly finds a lot of strange things happening. Cupboard doors open by themselves, the thermostat won’t stay set, a crow flies into their window, and a weird shape or being appears in a selfie. As the intensity builds, Lucy herself becomes the target of the strangeness and after a couple of nocturnal encounters with something, she begins to change. It is then down to Ben and local priest, Father Roberts (Kit Smith), to try and save her.
When we’re growing up as children, we’re always led to believe that midnight is the spooky time of night. Yet as we get older and begin consuming horror movies, all of the eerie stuff happens much later, usually between 3am and 4am. So many films have featured bad things occurring around this time Paranormal Activity and The Fourth Kind, being just two that spring to mind, that it has become the true creepy hour, and whenever you see a movie clock stop during that time frame, you know that the scary stuff is on its way. This is definitely true in The Last Rite, our nighttime activities occurring at just after 3am each night.
Although Kincaide conforms to the dead of night period of day to let the really frightening parts of his story happen, the events themselves don’t adhere to convention. A follower of the ‘less is more’ path of horror movie making, Kincaide ensures that the most intensive attack on Lucy occurs without the audience being able to see the aggressor. Modern horror films have a tendency to show too much, especially in the kind of scenario we find Lucy in. Typically the camera would pan from Lucy’s face to her point of view where we would see some nightmarish being pinning her as it tries to invade her body. Kincaide approaches the encounter as if it were an episode of sleep paralysis; Lucy is rigid and we see bed covers being removed and hear footsteps stomping around the room, but we never see the perpetrator. This decision makes the experience much more intense, Kincaide allowing the viewer to tap into their own imagination to invent what the being looks like. The sequence is brilliantly crafted with Waller giving a fantastic turn. She really sells the trauma that Lucy is experiencing both physically and emotionally.
Outside of the moments of dread and well executed scares, what makes The Last Rite stand out is the stellar work with the characters. Kincaide really cares about the fictional people he has created, each feels like a viable person, something else that often lacks in a genre film. Lucy is just like anyone you would walk past on the street, there’s nothing that singles her out as being a more appealing vessel. She’s not already broken or of a nervous disposition, she’s simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The impact of Lucy’s experiences have dire repercussions on the relationship between her and Ben. Ben, distracted by his own problems at work, doesn’t take Lucy’s initial fears seriously, which causes arguments. These arguments then work to get Lucy alone so that the aforementioned attack can happen. From there we get a lot of flip-flopping from Ben as he tries to be supportive, but doesn’t necessarily believe anything more sinister than Lucy’s imagination is at play. Before any of this has happened though, Kincaide manages to capture the routine, monotony, and loneliness of being home alone during the day. These early moments point to early cracks, or at least an imbalance in the relationship, and so the disintegration that eventually follows makes sense.
On the technical front Kincaide plays everything super controlled. Every shot has been meticulously planned out with one mission – to serve the story. The colour palette is kept muted so as to not overshadow the action, and the score is kept to a minimum to emphasize the silence and how frightening that can be all on its own. It’s a welcome reprieve as there has been a trend in recent films to run the music excessively loud, achieving cheap jump scares simply through a sudden beat of music. Kincaide doesn’t require any of these tactics though as the atmosphere and world that he has created is vivid enough on its own.
Our writer and director further distances himself from the normal constructs of a possession story by switching perspectives. Stories set in this sphere often tell the journey either through the eyes of the victim, or the priest that gets called in to help. The Last Rite places each of these characters as the protagonist for different sections of the story. We start with Lucy, experiencing all the horror that she does, but as it gets super intense and to the point where Lucy may no longer be herself, we switch to the eyes of Father Roberts. This shift in vantage point allows The Last Rite to reset itself, to take the threat levels back down again before building them within a new infrastructure. It’s yet another clever and engaging approach from Kincaide and one that demonstrates his keenness and passion for the genre.
Incredibly well constructed, The Last Rite has all the right ingredients for a great possession tale. Writer and director Leroy Kincaide executes his take on the sub-genre showing a vast knowledge for it whilst too using some clever ingenuity to create his own take on it.
The importance of characters and world building shines bright in Leroy Kincaide’s assured debut feature. With shifting perspectives and well-executed scare sequences, The Last Rite is a tale of demonic possession that respects the frameworks of the story whilst still striking out into its own new and exciting directions.
This review was first published on THN.