Apprentice To Murder

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Fire-and-brimstone preacher sees Satan everywhere, trains gullible young boy to “detect” evil, and the two of them commit several murders in the name of Jesus. Based on a true story. Was it Magic, Murder, or Madness?

ACTORS : Donald Sutherland, Chad Lowe, Mia Sara

YEAR OF RELEASE :  1988

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Apprentice To Murder  Fire-and-brimstone preacher sees Satan everywhere, trains gullible young boy to “detect” evil, and the two of them commit several murders in the name of Jesus. Based on a true story.

“Life don’t come free”.

Apprentice To Murder  An interestingly odd, if not too successful little folktale curio set in Pennsylvania (although it was shot in Norway) in the 1920s as a teenage boy Billy comes under the influence of a backwoods faith healer Dr. Reese who begins to educate him as he becomes drawn to his mystical charms. But Billy finds himself dragged into strange events which end in terrifying results as they believe the local hermit has the motive and power to cause the devastating blight affecting the small village.

Sometimes being unique and incredibly offbeat just doesn’t cut it, if it doesn’t entirely deliver the goods. I wanted to like “Apprentice to Murder” a lot more than I did, but I felt like it came up short by not completely coming to life with its dangerous predicament. It never really balances its sensationalised mystic concepts, tending to rely on its character relationships (especially the complicated connection between the boy and the faith healer), humdrum dramatic weight and slow- winding story build-up (some episodic filler) where it can have its flat spells. The most fascinating façade I thought was that of the hermit, which comes across very secondary to everything else, but is the main piece that holds everything together. Still its premise is innovative with a lyrical script that for most part engages with its busy themes.

It’s low-key in its approach, which is not a problem but it never really delves into the strange happenings and vivid special effects that seem to torture the faith healer. We get the usual supernatural occurrences, that in the end all of this magic might just be that of a disillusion. But this is supposedly inspired by true events involving a pow-pow preacher and his faith in George Hohmann’s “Long Lost Friend” that eventually led to murder. The performances stand up very well with Chad Lowe’s responsible turn holding his own alongside a charismatically believable Donald Sutherland as the unorthodox faith healer. He does command the screen in a subtle manner emitting somewhat a creepy undertone. The gorgeous Mia Sara doesn’t get all that much to do and Eddie Jones also shows up.

Director R. L Thomas does a sensational job presenting strikingly authentic period details, but also the moody score along with the elegant cinematography are instrumental in crafting enticingly symbolic imagery and an effective atmosphere of a god fearing time engulfing rural communities.

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