When Sally returns to the pub the following day
to retrieve Jays wallet, she runs into a large and dangerous
cowboy dude (Danny Idollor) who is looking for Jay. And if Jay
is Jesus, then the Messiah is here to make sure that he finally
goes through with his crucifixion.
Of course, none of this is immediately apparent
to Sally who also has her own reasons for not wanting to
be found and she and Jay head north.
Although Sally is a very well grounded character,
there is a deliberate element of uncertainty about both Jay and
the Messiah. Writer/director, Alan Ronald has been very careful
to avoid giving any clear indication as to whether the two men
really are who they think they are or whether Sally has managed
to get herself caught up in someone elses delusion. That
said, I found it very easy to buy into Jay as Jesus on the run
and I had no problem accepting The Messiah as, well, The Messiah.
This probably says something about me, but it also
says a lot about how well written the main characters are. All
three of these individuals are very well drawn, completely rounded,
and thoroughly believable. All of this makes for some very engaging
characters who very quickly draw you in to their world and keep
you wanting to know how things are going to pan out.
It helps, of course, that the acting is so strong
throughout. All three of the main cast and the more minor
characters, for that matter put in excellent performances
and really do bring their characters consistently to life.
Jesus Versus the Messiah is a very character centred film,
and this approach allows the plot to flow in a very natural
manner. Nothing is forced and, by allowing the story to emerge
from the developing relationships between the characters, Alan
Ronald manages to maintain a narrative that remains consistent,
believable and utterly enthralling.When all of this is combined
with a collection of great one-liners, and a genuinely moving
ending you have a film that is well worth tracking down.
4 out of 5 stars.
Review by leading genre film
When youre watching a film, certainly when youre
watching it for review purposes, a phrase will often pop into
your head. Some pithy combination of words will suggest itself,
usually about 30-40 minutes in, which perfectly sums up what
the film is or does or wants to be. As I watched Alan Ronalds
debut feature Jesus vs the Messiah, having started from a point
of knowing nothing whatsoever about the picture, not even whether
it was a drama or comedy, three words aligned themselves along
my neurons and I realised that I was viewing an existential
British westerns are few and far between; ones about the Son
of God are even rarer.
There is little actual western iconography here. One character
refers to another several times as a cowboy but
thats just because hes wearing a broad-brimmed leather
hat (the directors own). Its not really a Stetson,
in fact with his long leather coat it makes him look more like
a big, black Van Helsing (without the crossbow) than John Wayne
or Gene Autry. The excellent score, mostly based around a strummed
guitar, manages to evoke vaguely western feelings without ever
being an Ennio Morricone pastiche. But the real clue to the
genre here is the characters and their situation.
This is a three-hander - two men and one woman - and all three
people are lone drifters. She lives in a car, one man has a
flat and another home whose location he has forgotten and the
other fellow were never told anything about, except that
he spends his time chasing the first chap. Apart from these
three and one barfly featured at the start, the only characters
are a barman and a waitress, the sort of human furniture that
fills the mise-en-scene of a western without having anything
approaching a personality. Our three protagonists (well, two
protagonists and one antagonist, I suppose) move through a largely
empty world, rarely interacting with the rest of humanity. The
first half of the story is set in an urban locale, the second
half is more rural but everywhere seems empty, the widescreen
cinematography turning Paisley car parks and Loch Lomond hillsides
into dusty plains.
There are just enough clues to show that this isnt just
my interpretation, this is an intention on the part of Alan
Ronald to turn Scotland into Arizona, a sort of Wild West Lothian.
The aforementioned barfly is a hulking Glaswegian bastard whose
hobby is forcing strangers into drinking contests. When he makes
a move on a woman in a bar and is rebuffed, he doesnt
take kindly to the situation and takes even less kindly to the
bearded bloke along the bar who asks him to leave the lady alone.
Forced by the thugs associates to sit down and knock back
shots of something which probably tastes like furniture polish,
the mild fellow protests feebly but nevertheless emerges triumphant
(as the fat bloke brings up his lunch) only to collapse shortly
item7Awakening in the back of the womans car, the two
introduce themselves warily. She is Sally (Gemma Deerfield:
Dawn of the Zombies, Violet, Caped Fear), he eventually admits
that his name is Jesus (Simon Phillips: Idol of Evil, Jack Says).
Its pronounced the Biblical way hes not Spanish.
You must have had some fucked-up parents, says Sally.
Of course, when a character is named Jesus (he asks her to just
call him J) the audience immediately starts wondering whether
he really is The Jesus. Especially when hes in a film
with an obviously religious (if apparently contradictory) title
like Jesus vs the Messiah. And especially when he has a beard.
If theres one thing that everyone agrees on about the
Son of Our Lord, one thing which unites all the different factions
and denominations in peaceful unanimity, its the universally
accepted fact that Jesus had a beard. And was white.
Sally warily accepts Js offer to crash at his flat but
in the morning he finds that his wallet is missing. Being more
astute than J, Sally realises that the fat bastard at the bar
has it and returns there to retrieve it, which she does. But
into this otherwise-deserted-at-this-time establishment comes
a heavily built, stoney-faced fellow (Danny Idollor Junior,
adopting an American accent, who claims to have been in Buffy
the Vampire Slayer although I cant find any trace of this
online) who is searching for J and has no qualms about killing
people - with fists or pistol - who get in his way. We have
already seen him inexplicably kill some unnamed extras in other
This is The Messiah although he is only identified
as such in the end credits (and by dint of being the antagonist
who is vs Jesus). The character is never named on
screen although it is surely significant that he addresses J,
when they meet as Brother.
J turns up at the bar, tries to rescue Sally and has to be
rescued in turn from this seemingly unstoppable black behemoth,
who is left out cold on the floor. There is a fair amount of
people being smacked on the head with objects in this film,
usually hard enough to knock them unconscious and, to be fair,
a few situations where further blows were required would have
been more realistic (but thats a petty and irrelevant
complaint about what is otherwise an absolutely cracking film).
item8Sally and J, who still dont Trust each other, retreat
to a cafe for breakfast and hatch plans to get away from the
city but the Messiah tracks them there and persuades J to go
with him. This is the magic of the relationship here, into which
Sally intrudes: Jesus and the Messiah are in opposition but
they both know that Jesus has a destiny and it is the Messiahs
duty to see that this destiny is fulfilled. Just like the Terminator,
he cant be reasoned with, he cant be bargained
with and he absolutely will not stop.
Over the course of 100 minutes or so we see how Jesus and the
Messiah give meaning to each others lives, and how Jesus
and Sally can give meaning to each others lives (there
is not even a hint of romance, which is refreshing). Sally never
twigs that J is actually the Son of God until J confesses the
truth near the end so the audience always has an advantage over
But is he? Thats the marvellous thing about this film.
Were dummied into thinking that were watching a
religious film but then Alan Ronald throws in just enough doubt
to make us realise that these two men could just be a couple
of fucked-up loners. Theyre certainly fucked up, as indeed
is Sally, but are they fucked up enough to believe that theyre
the Son of God and his Nemesis? Or are they fucked up because
they are the Son of God and his Nemesis? Like the best existential
movies, JVTM doesnt provide answers but it does raise
some fascinating questions.
This is a thought-provoking film but its far from heavy.
Theres a bit of action, plenty of tension and vein of
dark humour running through the whole thing, best exemplified
by probably the greatest walrus scene in the history of British
cinema. I can see this film being a hit at festivals and provoking
plenty of internet discussion once people have had a chance
to see it. Theres always something fascinating about religious
authority figures unafraid to indulge in righteous violence,
whether its Garth Ennis Preacher or the gun-toting
priest in Bram Stokers Shadow Builder (or indeed my own
unproduced TV pilot Padre - ask me about it sometime).
This is also a beautiful film, very much a cinematographers
film, not surprising as Ronald is a DP by trade whose credits
include Pat Higgins TrashHouse, HellBride and KillerKiller
(plus camera op on The Devils Music, in which he was so
memorable in front of the camera as stoned drummer ZC). Ronald
uses the widescreen image not just as a window but as a frame,
always aware of the shape of the things that make up the picture,
whether its an extreme close-up of a characters eyes or
a panoramic landscape with a single figure.
As well as being a terrific movie - a masterful combination
of great photography and fascinating characters trapped in an
intriguing situation - JVTM is also a triumph of minimalist
production in having only five crew. Alan Ronald himself wrote,
directed and edited and handled the camera. Producer Debbie
Attwell was also 1st AD, script supervisor, line producer and
stills photographer and also also found time to produce the
forty-minute Making Of (which can be found in four chunks on
YouTube). She and Ronald have a long history of working together
which includes the short films Sabbat, The Gloop and Blood Bank
plus a music video which was included on the German DVD of Suspiria.
The other three crew members were all in the sound department,
which might explain why the sound production and mixing - so
often the thing that lets low-budget movies down - is top-notch
here. Andrew Biscuit Byars was sound recordist (and
stunt driver - not a common combination in the industry!) while
Craig Woods and Ben McNeill shared duties as sound assistants,
production assistants and boom ops. The only other people credited
on the film are Alans brother Gordon Ronald who was pre/post-production
assistant and shares a foley credit with Alan; composer
Eli Stone (Alan Ronald and Andrew Byars are credited with additional
music); executive producer Lee Thacker; and David Smith who
made a rather important wooden prop. Gordon Ronald also has
the distinction of having originated the long-coated, leather-hated
title character in Ronald and Attwells short film Messiah,
included in the Making Of.
All three leads are excellent in their respective roles, creating
believable characters within a barely believable scenario from
nothing but hints and suggestions. Ronald, Byars and Woods all
make cameos as headbanging victims of the Messiah in an early
shot unconnected to the main story while Attwell plays the waitress
in the cafe. Alistair Rodger is the guy in the bar and John
Lavelle plays the barman.
Technically and artistically a triumph, Jesus vs the Messiah
benefits above all from an excellent script which makes us care
about these characters and think about them too. It never establishes
for certain whether the two men are in fact supernatural entities
or just two guys with mental health problems. More than that,
it makes it clear that it doesnt matter which scenario
is true. The film works equally well if you believe they are
or they arent, or indeed if they both are and arent
at the same time. It doesnt matter - and thats the
The film premiered at a festival in Leith in June 2007. In
an example of the coming trend, it is not available on DVD yet
but can be purchased as a download from Film Annex for a very
reasonable six dollars.
MJS rating: A
Review extract from Arena
Of The Unwell
In a world where every low budget genre flick is hailed as
the next big thing, released in a blaze of internet fury only
to ultimately disappoint, Alan Ronald's JVM is like a reassuringly
fresh Glade Breeze cutting thru' the stagnant stench of failure
left behind by such British movies as Razor Blade Smile (Eileen
Daly in a squeaky rubber cat suit shagging ladies...how did
that go so hideously wrong?), Cradle of Fear (Eileen Daly having
sex with a one legged man and an evil Brummie dwarf running
a snuff website....why was it so shite?) to the more recent
Outpost (Nazi zombies and Ray Stevenson's bandy legs and hovering
accent anyone?) and, whilst no cinematic classic (tho' I'm pretty
sure it's not meant to be) Ronald's film is a ball-busting,
in yer face slice of no budget movie-making.
Behind it's controversy courting title and popcorn trappings
is a simple tale of an incestuous love between two long separated
brothers each craving the love of their father. The character
of Sally is superfluous to this, ultimately unable to make a
difference to events started 2ooo years ago. The relationship
between the leads is best encapsulated early on in the film
when Jay and Sally are chatting in the cafe. Both are seen to
look longingly at the waitress (Attwell), Jay for a love he
can never experience and Sally as a memory of some long forgotten
Their lives are meandering and meaningless, full of secrets
and lies. The only character with true motivation and beliefs
is the Messiah, less a supernatural force of nature but more
a simple, honest and secret-less man.
Or maybe it's just about a couple of care in the community
types wanting to kick the crap out of each other.
With less to spend than a tiny school on its annual nativity
play and a crew of just five people (two of which I've heard
were eight year old boys kidnapped and sold into slavery by
the director), it's surprising how good JVM looks. Ronald has
a real eye (just the one tho...the other he plucked out to gain
his unnatural power over women) for composition, giving the
harsh, windswept scenery of Argyll a haunting beauty. His use
of the widescreen image in general is second to none, each image
perfectly framed, almost as if the characters are trapped within,
unable to escape their fates.