Mitchell Altieri’s Holy Ghost People is billed as a psychological thriller set deep in the Appalachian mountains. The film is a sometimes-hypnotic journey into a snake-handling church hidden from modern, mainstream society. Charlotte (Emma Greenwell) and Wayne (Brendan McCarthy) attempt to infiltrate the church to rescue Charlotte’s sister, who she believes is hidden somewhere on the mountain. It’s an eerie film that touches on the relationship between power and religion, especially in communities largely populated by those who have somehow been shunned or tossed out of polite society.
Sometimes called holy rollers, the religious community that Altieri has chosen for his film is very real. Some of the footage in Holy Ghost People seems to be borrowed from Peter Adair’s 1967 documentary of the same name. The mix of the largely ethnographic old, black and white footage with Altieri’s storyline is compelling but also psychologically disturbing. It makes a movie that we might otherwise be able to dismiss as not very realistic seem a lot more accurate. As Charlotte and Wayne travel into the heart of the Church of One Accord, they meet the congregation’s leader, Brother Billy (Joe Egender). They also meet a trouble woman, Sister Sheila (Cameron Richardson), who seems to be hiding in the community more than she is reveling in religious ecstasy.