Watching a film like Tabernacle 101 is a frustrating experience. On the one hand, the Australian-made, low (and I mean low) budget sci-fi piece deserves some admiration for the mere fact that it has managed to snare itself a US theatrical release, however limited it may be (it played the first week in September in select cities before heading to Amazon Prime). On the other, more predominant hand this is so poorly scripted and acted that it’s doing itself no favours by securing an international spot where it’ll only be criticised further on a global level.
Whilst there are some film commentators who like to think that critics have their knives sharpened at the ready for whichever screening we attend, the truth is we love films just as much, if not more so (why else would we want to be critics?) and it’s not always the most pleasant experience to criticise a film. Tabernacle 101 makes it all too easy though.
From the moment the film introduces us to its protagonist, an atheist vlogger named Frank (David Hov), it’s evident that the acting is going to be of the unnatural variety; the opening scene features him and his nephew Daniel (Rees Laird) on a camping trip where he’s constantly referred to as “Uncle Frank” no matter how the conversation flows. It’s during one of their many awkward exchanges that we learn Daniel believes in aliens, and Frank being an atheist means any banter regarding the afterlife or other-worldly beings is immediately halted. So how do you explain the strange noises and shadows around the empty campsite, Uncle Frank?
Because Frank refuses to believe there’s anything to the afterlife, and because writer/director Colm O’Murchu thought another riff on Flatliners would be a positive thing, our egotistical atheist opts to volunteer as a human guinea pig for an experiment his girlfriend (Elly Hiraani Clapin) is in the midst of perfecting; she’s managed to euthanise and then resuscitate literal guinea pigs, so why not the man she’s supposedly in love with?
We all know this experiment is going to have dire consequences, and for Frank it’s becoming a medium of sorts, so its a good thing he has a psychic lady friend (Mikaela Franco) to assist him with his new found powers. But Frank going around performing magic tricks on the street and curing a stranger’s ovarian cancer can’t purely sustain a running time, so let’s throw in evil entities for good measure. And not just evil entities, but evil entities that have possessed dearest Daniel and Frank’s right-hand man Clint (Leon Kowalski, delivering his lines in an explicable American/Australian twang); there’s a semi sub-plot revolving around Frank’s deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend Sarah and their respective hook-ups with Meredith the psychic and Clint, but O’Murchu’s script drops it as quickly as it’s introduced.
As I said before, I didn’t want to have to so heavily criticise Tabernacle 101 but there’s so little on offer here that’s worth praising. The low budget obviously plays into why the effects, sets and props are all limited in their quality (though i’ve certainly seen worse) and the storyline owes a lot to the aforementioned Flatliners and, like, every episode of TV’s Charmed, but they’re components easily forgiven. The dialogue and acting on hand however is where this ultimately fails. Delivery feels forced, inanimate, amateurishly theatrical…not once do you feel something remotely organic coming from the performers, and for a film that’s stressing about the introductory mentality of a subject (101 is literally in its title), it’s all a little unfortunately ironic that the hired talent haven’t been reined in accordingly.
ONE STAR (OUT OF FIVE)
Tabernacle 101 is available to rent, buy or stream through Amazon Prime.