You need to watch the weirdest sci-fi movie of the century on Amazon Prime ASAP
“I think God wants a lot of people dead.”
Scroll through the movie listings on Amazon and you’ll find dozens of micro-budget genre films with ridiculous pun-based titles like Llamageddon, Lavalantula, Zombeavers, and Tsunambee. Often aided by garish, wildly inaccurate cover art, the titles are enough to draw in curious audiences, especially connoisseurs of trash cinema always looking for the next unsung disasterpiece. But more often than not, all that awaits viewers is a nonsensical letdown. Even the relatively mainstream Sharknado movies are rarely as amusing as their titles.
So no one could be blamed for scrolling right past writer-director Brendan Steere’s 2018 movie The VelociPastor, whose portmanteau title has a bit of an absurdist quality but otherwise looks right at home alongside other exploitation quickies. Certainly, The VelociPastor isn’t a work of misunderstood genius, or even a piece of mesmerizing outsider art like The Room or Birdemic. Steere is too genuinely competent to create something as inexplicable as a Tommy Wiseau or James Nguyen film, but he’s also too savvy and clever to just churn out a generic B-movie and slap an eye-catching title on it.
The VelociPastor turns its limitations into virtues, playfully sending up its own subgenre while also checking its boxes. There’s a high concept set-up that makes virtually no sense. There are gruesome deaths and chaotic fights. There’s a sexy love interest and an ending that blatantly teases a sequel. But Steere approaches these elements with smart humor and stylistic flair, even if his meager resources forced him to reuse locations and kept him from springing for convincing costumes and special effects.
The jokes start before the movie even begins, as a title card asserts The VelociPastor was “rated X by an all-Christian jury” in a nod to the kind of faux-shocking marketing tactics used to sell drive-in movies 50 years ago. Obviously, The VelociPastor isn’t actually rated X — or rated at all, since there clearly wasn’t room in the budget for MPAA submission fees.
Steere sets up expectations for the goofiness to come, and the opening scene delivers, as priest (not pastor) Doug Jones (Gregory James Cohan) exits his church following a sermon only to witness the murder of his parents in a car explosion. Except an exploding car isn’t within the movie’s budget, so Steere just uses an onscreen title that reads “VFX: car on fire.”
At that point, you know what you’re getting into, and anyone who’s on board will get exactly what they’re hoping for. As Doug weeps and gets drunk on communion wine, his mentor Father Stewart (Daniel Steere, the director’s father) advises him to escape his troubles by traveling as far away as possible. In the next scene, Doug appears to be driving to China, complete with old-school rear-projection effects in the background.
Steere doesn’t even try to pretend that China isn’t just some local park, which later serves as the location for an actual local park, and then again as Vietnam in a random flashback sequence for Father Stewart. In “China,” Doug encounters a dying woman who passes him an ancient dinosaur-tooth talisman, which cuts his hand and imbues him with the power of what she calls the “dragon warrior.” Back home, Doug has disturbing visions, flashes lizard-like eyes, and keeps talking about his hunger.
One night, those visions involve taking out a mugger attempting to assault Carol (Alyssa Kempinski), a remarkably resourceful prostitute who’s working to put herself through both medical school and law school. Doug wakes up the next morning naked in Carol’s bed, and while he bumbles through a discussion that he thinks is about the two of them having sex, she reveals that she’s actually talking about “that time you turned into a dinosaur and ate someone.”
The talisman has changed Doug into a sort of were-dinosaur, although his dino-form looks more like a Tyrannosaurus than the velociraptor the title implies. Already disillusioned with the church, Doug doesn’t take much convincing from Carol to start using his powers to fight evil, starting with a stereotypically over-the-top pimp. “I think God wants a lot of people dead,” he says when Father Stewart raises religious objections, and Father Stewart doesn’t have much standing to complain when Doug’s main adversary turns out to be a church-backed ninja clan.
Steere piles on the craziness, always with a wry sense of humor. It helps that Cohan and Kempinski play their roles straight and give surprisingly affecting performances, especially in the burgeoning romance between Doug and Carol. A sex scene is remarkably tender, like something out of an art film with its multiple split screens and color-coded mood lighting. It’s then followed by some ninja fighting, in case there’s concern about Steere taking himself or his movie too seriously.
That’s not to oversell a movie that was partially inspired by an autocorrect error on Steere’s phone, and features a monster costume that looks suspiciously like it was made in a summer camp arts-and-crafts class. The VelociPastor delivers exactly what it promises. As Samuel L. Jackson famously said about Snakes on a Plane, another B-movie that was sold entirely on its gloriously dumb title, “People either want to see this movie, or they don’t.”