Holiness and Hell
How the Fire Fell at the Bijou
By Anna Grace
Charismatic preacher Edmund Creffield was known to send his followers into seizures of religious ecstasy, sermonizing passionately for up to 24 hours straight. Combine that with the fact that most of Creffield’s followers were young women, that the preacher held a belief in communal nudity and spent several months in a hole under a house in Corvallis, and you have a creepy, early 19th-century cult worthy of a feature film.
Few hard facts are known about the Church of the Bride of Christ, and Portland filmmaker Edward P. Davee’s imagination fills in to illuminate the connection between sex, murder and salvation.
Cryptic storytelling quickly puts the viewer on edge with the film’s black-and-white images, minimal dialogue and heavy music. The pacing is designed for discomfort. Time and events clip along too quickly, but in long, slow takes. An illuminating scene is purposefully shortened, followed by an uncomfortably long look at a tree branch. It’s as though a series of old photographs is laid out, one after the next, and we are left to piece together the clues.
Shot through mullioned windows or backwoods brush, How the Fire Fell casts the audience in the role of uncomfortable voyeur. This makes the film interesting but ultimately unsatisfying, as we never really understand any one character, only see them.
While one can forgive the film it’s somewhat obvious imagery and heavy aesthetic, I cannot come to terms with the way the filmmaking upstaged the very story it was trying to tell. How the Fire Fell would have benefitted from more psychological introspection and fewer explicitly self-conscious gestures.
Davee is a passionate filmmaker with a strong, innovative approach. I look forward to his future films. It’s only a matter of time before this director discovers a more seamless way of meshing the story and the telling in his work. Anna Grace
A special screening of How the Fire Fell, followed by a Q&A with the film’s director, Edward P. Davee, will be held 8pm Thursday, Oct. 13, at Bijou Cinemas; info at bijou-cinemas.com