Most of what you have heard about Cross Bearer is probably false. If you go into it expecting a wall-to-wall smorgasbord of splatter and grue, you will be disappointed. If you go in expecting a campy gore flick, you will not be pleased. If you go into Cross Bearer expecting a smartly written and well acted horror flick that paints the world in a dark, sleazy, grimy, and violent tone, then you will be pleasantly surprised.
The plot is a simple one, but that does not mean the film is. Heather (played by Natalie Jean), a dancer at a strip club, and a group of her friends and co-workers are sent off to the empty warehouse where a cocaine dealer lives in order to make a deal for their sleazy, smarmy boss. Unbeknownst to anyone involved, a religious fanatic armed with a claw hammer has started bringing violent holy retribution to all in the building. Once our heroines and lone hero get there, all hell breaks loose. (Lame pun intended.)
Cross Bearer gives us a world populated with "bad" people. Drug dealers and users, strippers, amateur porn filmmakers; proud sinners. These are people making their way in the world, but their moral tone is gauged by how they treat people, not how they choose their free time. In the dark grimness of the real world, sometimes getting by involves delving into the sleaze; adaptability is the game. In this world, our real world, sometimes the most sick, violent, and repellent are the most "holy." Those who claim to be the moral arbiters are the most twisted.
This is Cross Bearer's main strength: It's smart. Ahlbrandt clearly knew what he was doing with the script. It deals with some fairly heavy themes in the context of a slasher flick without being heavy-handed, and he was wise in casting, as he found many capable actors who embodied their roles.. Natalie Jean is a strong lead and heroine, one the audience instantly roots for and sides with. The supporting cast is all great, too, which is honestly a rarity in the indie world. My favorite scene in the film is actually completely dialogue-driven and turns into a funny, poignant, and almost meta appraisal of filmmaking in general. A pleasant surprise to me right in the middle of the movie.
Which leads me back to one of my initial points, Cross Bearer just isn't a gore film. It is violent, yes, and there is definitely some quite graphic gore in some of the death scenes, but that is not the movies focus nor it's main draw. This is just a flat-out good horror movie, one of the more original and interesting slashers in a long time. Sadly, in the underground, only the most extreme and splattery get noticed. This is in no way meant to demean those films, many of the most extreme are also some of the most worthwhile and best going these days, but that doesn't mean they're the only good ones.
There is still a place for more restrained filmmaking, especially when it's bolstered by such strong writing and acting like Cross Bearer is. I can see others being disappointed, which seems to be a hallmark in the age of internet hype, especially if they were expecting something else. Go into Cross Bearer expecting an original twist on the slasher drama with a dynamite script, fantastic performances, and a great visual and editing style. You WILL be entertained.
This film was my first exposure to Adam Ahlbrandt's work and you will be sure I will be checking out more in the future. Natalie Jean has also earned herself a fan for life, as she's a talented, engaging, and quite beautiful leading lady. Expect great things from both in the future.
If you're a fan of slasher movies or solid, gruesome horror flicks, in general, I definitely recommend you give Cross Bearer a shot. There are multiple ways to do this. Toetag have just released a DVD edition limited to 1,666 copies signed by Adam Ahlbrandt and Natalie Jean, and this was the edition I reviewed. Massacre Video have a limited VHS release out soon, and there is also a German Blu-Ray available at Diabolik. The initial run of this flick sold out and was fetching high prices so the fact there are some affordable, available editions is something to be happy about. There is also a super deluxe limited edition coming soon from Toetag that fans should be aware of, and Cross Bearer merch is available from The Sleaze Palace.
If this even sounds remotely up your alley, check it out!