“I think I can hear dead people.”
No, I’m not paraphrasing 1999’s The Sixth Sense. It’s a line from writer/director Molly Hewitt’s new film Holy Trinity, in which they also star. And like Haley Joel Osment’s Cole Sear, Hewitt’s Trinity finds herself struggling with her gift—unfortunately there’s no Bruce Willis to help her out of the bind.
But unlike M. Night Shyamalan’s famous thriller, Holy Trinity isn’t so much interested in frights and twists. It’s an oddball mix of social commentary and gonzo charm, a sort of Troma picture designed by John Waters.
Trinity is a dominatrix who lives with her partner Baby (Theo Germaine) in Chicago; she’s also addicted to huffing. One night, fresh out of cans to huff, she borrows a spiritual air freshener from a roommate and has one hell of a trip. The next day, she begins to hear the voice of Baby’s dead father berating them, and soon she’s hearing dead people wherever she goes.
Trinity finds some solace in mediums and friends, but soon discovers that this gift is quite useful in her professional life; people pay big bucks for Trinity to humiliate them sexually, and the voices of dead relatives reveal exactly what trauma points to push for maximum pleasure.
Soon Trinity is internet famous for her preternatural prowess, but Baby has qualms about the constraints of celebrity on their relationship. From here, Holy Trinity becomes a series of misadventures, with Trinity attempting to harness her gift without losing her mind (one of the more clever encounters involves a priest who secretly finds joy in Madonna’s fetishization of Catholic bondage).
Molly Hewitt, working from her own script, imbues the title character with a wide-eyed resilience—things don’t so much happen to her as much as they roll off her shoulders. And that ends up being emblematic of the film in general. Holy Trinity‘s meandering, repetitive plotting offers little in the way of development, character or otherwise. But despite this, Hewitt and crew maintain an impressive dedication to the film’s artistic statement; in turn, Holy Trinity‘s delights are mainly visual, a style-over-substance experience.
The Chicago of the film is realized as a neon-lit otherworld, one part retro-kitsch, one part nightmare psychedelia, with plenty of low-budget camp sprinkled in the mix. Hewitt clothes her band of misfits in drag outfits and bold patterns, and the production design is stripped of detail, painting the scenes with a grotesque uniformity. Chicagoans will delight in seeing familiar city locales dolled up in this fever dream aesthetic—Andersonville’s weird hall of wonders Woolly Mammoth is somehow made even weirder here, as the nightmarish store where Trinity buys more air freshener to huff.
Holy Trinity will certainly win some audience praise for its inclusivity; the cast is largely non-cis and the film is proudly queer. A standout sequence occurs at “church,” a drag-show turned spiritual gathering led by local performer Imp Queen. But in folding some of its values into the narrative, Holy Trinity sometimes stumbles, like during a conversation involving consent, self-care, and current politics—it seems that Hewitt is so thrilled to celebrate underrepresented experiences that she excitedly highlights, and underlines, and reiterates the talking points.
But Holy Trinity manages enough novelty to keep the whole thing chugging trippily along. I was especially delighted by an increasingly absurd customer service call, once again calling attention to the careful and clever production design. And as a feature debut for Hewitt, Holy Trinity is surprisingly confident—a technicolor romp through the wonderland of Chicago.
Holy Trinity screens at the Music Box Theatre on Friday, September 27, (9:45pm) and Tuesday, October 1 (7pm); select cast and crew will be in attendance for post-film Q&As.
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