An unsettling spiritual shocker, THE BINDING shows the darker side of devotion when a religious family's patriarch begins receiving visions of bloodshed. Written and directed by Gus Krieger, produced by Michael Glassman and Scott Hyman, The Binding presents divine psychological horror through a modern reimagining of the Biblical tale of Abraham, who was commanded by God to bind and kill his infant son. A young minister's wife (Arrow's Amy Gumenick) attempts to reconcile her foreboding maternal instincts with her deeply religious husband (Josh Heisler) and his increasingly disturbing intentions. Is he receiving visions from God or unraveling within his own delusions of grandeur? How far will a family's faith extend when their blind devotion means their violent destruction? Praised for its intelligent design, The Binding became a critical favorite through its celebrated performances and cerebral nuance.
Religious horror. With a few exceptions (‘The Exorcist,’ ‘The Omen’), there have been far more failures then successes. They all feel pretty rote and done before. In fact, my two examples of good religious horror have more than a few similarities. Now add in a straight to Blu-ray budget and an unheard of cast: how much of a chance does ‘The Binding’ really have?
‘The Binding’ is a movie that feels so suffocated by its shoestring budget that it's afraid to reach the normal points that horror movies hit. We are talking about a movie that shouldn't even be considered a part of the horror genre. This film falls more in line with a more adult version of a movie you would see on the Lifetime Channel. That is actually the kind of budget it feels this movie had to work with.
Sara (Amy Gumenick) and Bram (Josh Heisler) are a happily married couple with a newborn baby named Skyler. Bram is a recovering alcoholic who is now a preacher, and he and Sara both try to lead very religious lives. One day Bram has a vision that he has had a visit from God, and that God would call on him for a very important task. Believing in his visions, Bram feels a heightened level of importance and feels like a true messenger for God.
Shortly after his vision, something starts coming over Bram, and he begins to act like he is possessed and threatens to kill his newborn daughter. Frightened, Sara insists that Bram seeks immediate help. However, nothing seems to help, and Bram only seems to get worse, and go deeper into his obsession with his visions. Is Bram truly possessed? How far will Sara need to go to keep her family together, and more importantly, to protect her daughter?
‘The Binding’ has a serious identity crisis due to its bad marketing. This film has been pitched as a religious horror movie; I know the director thinks this is a horror movie. The actors say they think this is a horror movie. This is absolutely, unequivocally, not a horror movie. There is no horror here. No blood and gore, no jump scares, no demons or creatures... nothing. Instead we get repetitive, endless threats on killing a child, and nothing to back those threats up. As a result, it just comes across as lame.
As I said before, this is a Lifetime movie trying to get a horror movie fan audience. So as a Lifetime movie how does this stand up? Not that good. As you may be able to tell from my summary, the problem is that Bram’s actions are what drive this story, but the movie wants to focus on Sara. She gets the majority of the screen time, but remains a passive character throughout, never driving the plot forward. With her husband threatening their child, you would hope that she would act against her husband and maybe question her faith. But no, instead of questioning her faith, she turns to it for answers, and always goes back to Bram time and time again. There is a hilariously bad obligatory exorcism scene on Bram to bring out what has supposedly possessed him, and afterwards the priest says “Sara if this doesn't work, I would call the cops.” This priest is probably the most dispassionate priest ever on film and Sara doesn't even question him? She just says ok and moves on? Sara is way too passive of a character to be a compelling lead protagonist.
I don't know how much I can actually hate this movie. It doesn't belong on Blu-ray; it belongs on television. This production is a television style production with a television budget. Unfortunately, because of those limitations, this film had no chance in becoming anything that would leave any amount of resonance on the viewer. This is a movie you easily forget just a couple hours after watching it. Which makes it great for television, TV is actually filled with content that is just there to pass the time. But for a Blu-ray that you would actually pay money for, there just isn't enough here.
‘The Binding’ hits Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC encode that reinforces the fact that this film was on level with a television production. This transfer framed at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio doesn't look bad, there is just an amateurish look to movie.
The star of the show here is in the detail work. Clarity and detail work are better than you would think. In almost every scene, the picture is surprisingly sharp with great edge detail. That is until we get the dimly lit scenes. Look at the scene where Bram describes his visions for the first time at the table, where black levels crush detail and there is quite a bit of film grain that can be distracting. The handful of scenes which take place at night all have those same problems.
The cinematography shows that it ran into budgetary constraints which effected its video quality. This film just doesn't have the polish and style that we are used to seeing in today's films. There are absolutely no cleaver shots or other interesting cinematography. They just hit ‘record’ and filmed what was needed without any style or substance behind it. I usually don't like to count that against the actual transfer quality, but you feel it here. As it is, like the film, I feel like I’m judging this as a television style transfer. As far as that is concerned, this is a decent transfer that doesn't do anything to wow or impress.
‘The Binding’ comes to Blu-ray with a serviceable DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track that falls in line with the rest of this film. A lot of television Blu-rays that are dramas (which is what this film really is), mainly have front and surround speakers just for the score. And unfortunately this transfer doesn't aspire to be anything better.
Fronts and surrounds are primarily delegated to the score. There is one dream sequence with a baby crying from every direction, but that is it for the surrounds. There are a few more instances for the fronts but nothing substantial. It goes without saying that the dynamics suffer from this problem as well.
The LFE track fares the best here. For a movie that is a drama, bass levels are the one element that impress. Along with giving the score some added heft and weight, there are very small supposed “scares” that only have any minuscule impact because the bass kicks in. Like most things about this transfer, I don't hate this, it's just bare bones and expected.
Commentary with Gus Krieger – A commentary with the director that offers very little information other than reinforcing the idea that this was a compromised movie. The director insists there are scenes that make him frightened and ill at ease. I was hoping for more insight into it, but quickly realized this was a too shallow of a commentary to answer any of my questions.
Cast Interviews (17:20 HD) – The cast talks about how they became involved with the production and how “uneasy” certain parts of the script left them
Theatrical Trailer (1:44 HD) – One theatrical trailer that makes the religious struggle seem like more of a struggle then it is in the actual movie.
Deleted Scenes – There are eight new scenes here and a lot of questions are actually answered. Supporting characters (like Sara’s alcoholic mother) get fleshed out, and there is actually a scene where the couple has doubts about their religious fervor, which was something I felt I needed in the theatrical cut.
I have a certain amount of sympathy for ‘The Binding’. I do believe religious horror is a very small genre that peaked in the 70s. With that in mind, I quickly realized comparing ‘The Binding’ with a film like ‘Rosemary's Baby’ just isn't fair. This movie screams of a compromised vision that unfortunately was given a ‘Made for TV’ budget. At the end of the day the end result is more in tune with a television production thriller than religious horror. With a so/so transfer and lackluster Special Features, there is no way I can recommend ‘The Binding’. Skip it.