Written by: Treasure McCorkle | October 12th, 2023
The Bell Keeper (Colton Tran, 2023) 1 out of 4 stars.
Usually, a film’s main goal is to draw interest and the investment of its viewers, be it through interesting characters, an interesting narrative, or even simply interesting world-building. Ultimately, the goal is for the viewer to feel something, and unfortunately for director Colton Tran, no stranger to the filmmaking business, The Bell Keeper’s emotional impact can be entirely summarized with: “Okay … I guess.”
We follow an unlikely group of friends as they travel to a campsite rumored to be haunted by demons. The trip is led by Holly (Cathy Marks, Sorry, Charlie), a documentary director who planned the trip to begin with; her partner and cameraman, Matthew (Mike Manning, The Way Out); Megan (Alexis B. Santiago, All the World Is Sleeping) the documentary’s host and local influencer; Megan’s boyfriend, Gabriel (Capri-Antoine Vaillancourt, Killer Stepmom); and Liam (Reid Miller, Joe Bell), the shrimpy owner of the RV they took this trip in. They are all introduced after a quick teaser meant to draw the viewer in, which features Hank (Randy Couture, Expend4bles), our assumed antagonist, as well as the swift, gruesome murder of two young adults.
The premise itself isn’t special; there is no unique spin on it until the latter half of the film. It feels the same as a lot of early 2000s slasher films: corny dialogue, questionable decisions, unnecessary intimacy scenes, even down to the entirely unhelpful law enforcement. Where it loses its charm is not in the weak acting and almost comically bad effects, but rather the poor attempt at subverting the viewers’ expectations with a flimsy plot twist of the villain really being the hero.
As it turns out, Hank is an immortal who, a hundred years ago, discovered his young daughter had been sacrificed by a Satanic priest (Daniel Dasent, Dark Cycle) in order to summon demons from hell and achieve immortality, himself. In killing the priest during the ritual, Hank assumed immortality. Thereafter, he made it his business to dispatch any demons that possessed any people in the area.
The film’s best and worst element is the reveal of the Bell Keeper as the twist hero. With its unfocused writing and egregious pacing issues, it leaves a strange taste in the viewer’s mouth. Exploring immortality in the average man is a genuinely unique premise in a horror film, but the amount of time spent with the main friend group screwing around rather than exploring Hank’s background, aside from long info-dumpy monologues, is quite grating.
Ultimately, shifting the point of view of this film from the beginning would have done it a lot of justice. The concept of the documentary becomes null and void halfway through and our protagonist changes, and not in a satisfying, seamless way. It simply leaves a lot to be desired. And while it doesn’t leave any holes to be patched narratively, it makes you mourn for what excitement the concept could have been and the deep emotional impact that a character so tragic as Hank could have had.