Is there any possible conclusion a person can reach when contemplating the psychological nature of religious faith than to imply that’s rooted in corrupt intent?
The year is 2022. We’re watching in real time as new cargo-cult religions form around right-wing politicians the world over. Most of the Western world seems depressed. Democracies are failing, in part due to the cultural weight of these rampant new faiths. Some of the more virulent and visible charge their enemies with accusations of pedophiliac intent. Old hat. Not surprising. Basic bitch-level fear-mongering.
For much of its running time, Chema Garcia Ibarra’s The Sacred Spirit plays as a tense and curious depiction of a modern faith, centered around UFO enthusiasts who meet weekly to find some measure of hope in their day-to-day lives. Their founder is Julio (José Ángel Asensio), the owner of a local grocery store by day, preacher of extraterrestrial revelation by night. José Manuel (Nacho Fernández) is his most ardent disciple. When Julio dies, José takes over and dedicates himself to the execution of his mentor’s secret final promises.
Ibarra imbues his story with stellar cinematography and a keen soundtrack, lapsing into techno beats and remixes of pop songs with just the right ear for context. It’s not reliant on score to set tone; all of that is brought to the table through the visuals, the performances and a canny use of everyday background noise to replicate the sweaty, information-overload nature of modern life. Public access television prattles endlessly about tragedies and the miracle cures to fix them. Radio never stops prattling off sports scores, commercials for worthless products, and bad news. Stylistically, the film is a knockout.
Story-wise, well … José is no stranger to bad news. His sister, Verónica (Llum Arques), is the single mother of two twin girls, Vane and Vero. Vane went missing years prior to the start of the movie. The tragedy set their family astray. To make matters worse, their mother, a famous clairvoyant, now has Alzheimer’s disease and cannot guide them. The cult gives José purpose. He needs someone to tell him what to do. Even if it’s the worst thing imaginable.
The problem with The Sacred Spirit is that beneath all of Ibarra’s filmmaking talents, the story terminates precisely the way audiences will predict from the second it starts. The cult is up to some bad shit. José is complicit. Children are endangered. Despite great moments throughout where some characters are simply tugged along due to their legitimate belief in UFOs — powered in their souls by absurd notions — for the most part it devolves into a not particularly novel story about the inherently abusive nature of cults. In the most predictable way possible. Ah, well, it’s at least engrossing.
Arrow Video has released a deluxe edition of the film, which was not provided for review. The disc contents, however, are pretty impressive given that this is a debut feature film. The first disc includes an incredible number of extras, including visual essays, interviews and on-location reports about the making of the film. The film is presented in 1080p with DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround audio.
The second disc of the deluxe edition contains Ibarra’s short films, The Attack of the Robots from Nebula-5 (2008), Protoparticles (2013), Mystery (2013), Uranes (2014), The Disco Shines (2016) and The Golden Legend (2019).