The Third Testament
Spooky, Kooky Genius
What do I have to say about The Third Testament? It’s not quite a film that I’d say I wish I had written and made—but it’s not too far from it.
This film is first-time feature producer/writer/director Matt Dallman’s ambitious alternate-present indie thriller, a preposterous, irresistibly compelling car-wreck of a yarn in which, essentially, the Jesus Seminar and Dan Brown fanatic conspiracy theorists win, theologically—and succeed in having the “Third Testament” of the Gnostic gospels canonized.
Yes, you read that right.
When a documentary filmmaker investigating the archaeological provenance of a cache of Gnostic manuscripts goes missing, the filmmaker’s wife, Carolyn, hires another filmmaker to document the search for her husband. Employing the “found footage” techniques popularized by Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity, Dallman’s script very craftily yields the backstory of Caroyln Matthews, her husband, and her husband’s suspected killer, Phineas Black, bit by bit. And when the documentarian hired by Mrs. Matthews, Joe, suspects that she’s not been telling him the truth about certain things, he decides to go freelance himself.
So the story has layers upon layers of untrustworthy narrators, in the “best” Da Vinci Code sort of way—and yet you never feel like you’re about to get the shoddy M. Night Shyamalan treatment. In fact, by the time the film is done you may, if you’re like me, have absolutely no clue what you’ve just seen!
Part holy-roller tract, part skeptical Scripture debunker, and 100% “take that you neo-myth-making shysters” in-your-face comeuppance, The Third Testament has enough gall to offend just about everyone who’s thinking of embracing this film as “one of their own.” Who’s side is Dallman on, exactly? God’s, I think. But not any sect’s. And that’s a good thing.
Dallman is at his most crafty, though, in knowing just how far his budget can stretch and still leave his film feeling “real.” He has either studied films like Cloverfield and The 4th Kind enough (as well as the precedents cited earlier) to know exactly which strings to pull—and just how hard—or he’s a prescient genius when it comes to this sort of thing. You never forget that this is a film made on a shoestring (his wife Amy stars as Carolyn, and she is listed as an executive producer) but that never gets in the way, either. And if you’ve ever looked much into the Brownian issues related to orthodox and Gnostic scriptures, you can tell that Dallman has done his homework there, too.
Further, Dallman has brilliantly cast the talking heads who undergird the bulk of Joe’s “documentary.” If I didn’t know for a fact that this film is fiction—and its alternate-present setting is really the only in-film dead-giveaway—I’d swear that probably 95% of the interview footage is from real scholars and police detectives, not from micro-budget indie film actors. The quality of what Dallman has done here is literally astonishing.
Does this mean you’ll like it? I wouldn’t bet on it. My tastes are kind of quirky—and as I hope you’ve figured out from my review, I doubt that Dallman is catering to your tastes, particularly, either. But if you’re looking for something consistently surprising, challenging, often chilling, and ultimately mystifying, I bet you’ll be the first one your block to see this one… and you’ll love telling your friends about it.
The Third Testament is unrated. But there’s enough language and eroticism here, in a Henry VIII historical “re-enactment” sequence, that it would probably be pushing the outer boundaries of PG-13. Consider yourself waRned.
Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg screened a promotional copy of The Third Testament.