THE GATHERING starts in a very promising way, beginning with a young couple who have the misfortune of literally stumbling upon the remains of an early Christian church, intentionally buried in the English countryside. This accident costs the young couple their lives--just check out the juicy impalement--but more ominously, it reveals the curious cross and odd bas reliefs that adorn the church. As a faithless archaeologist begins studying the findings, a mystery emerges about the church and its possible connection to Joseph of Arimathea, who (the story goes) journeyed to England to bring Christ's gospel after witnessing the Crucifixion. As the historical pieces come together, some startling revelations become clear about the faces represented in the bas reliefs and their resemblance to people seen in the nearby village.
Now, if THE GATHERING just stuck to developing this narrative thread, it could have emerged as the cinematic equivalent to the work of M. R. James, the English master of the horror story. James' work often focused on academics and antiquarians who uncover horrors buried in common historical records, or odd figures in paintings who seem to move ominously. In fact, the exposition behind THE GATHERING would fit comfortably in any one of James' stories, which often begin in a dry fashion, only to come unhinged after some horrible revelation--the murder of children by a ghost, a vampire buried in a church, a tree containing something hungry buried inside. In such stories, the safe, rational history we are taught to believe in collapses in favor of something horrifying and irrational.
Rather than fully developing such plot elements, THE GATHERING involves a woman (Cassie, played by Christina Ricci) whose appearance in the village coincides with the church's discovery. I love Ricci. I really do. She does amazing work in BUFFALO 66, as well as in SLEEPY HOLLOW, a movie dear to my black heart. However, her character's place in the scheme of things becomes all too predictable, as does the implications behind the relationship she forms with the children of the archaeologist. What should have amounted to a seething horror film becomes a series of "race against time" chases once she becomes the central character.
I don't mean to say that the film doesn't deserve attention. It comes across as competently made, and it holds the viewer's interest during its 90 minute running time. However, the film had the potential to rise to something more--much more.