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A finely crafted Swedish horror thriller, “In the Name of God,” asks provocative questions while delivering ample atmospheric chills.

In the Name of God

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In the Name of God (Gudstjänst) begins with a brutal murder of a man in the woods by an unseen assailant. It will be some time before we understand the connection of this opening to the rest of the film, but rest assured, it plays a pivotal role in the unfolding events.

Immediately afterward, we get a sinister credits sequence that effectively sets an ominous tone appropriate for this bleak and foreboding exploration of faith, morality, and the adage — made especially haunting here — the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Next, we meet our central protagonist, Theodor (Linus Walhgren), a priest at a struggling local parish. He’s en route to deliver his next sermon, driving across the beautiful, austere, snow-capped landscape. He’s accompanied by his loving wife, Felicia (Lisa Henni), the church’s organist.

She gently suggests they might want to find another parish to call home, and we soon discover why. Attendance at his service is nearly non-existent, save for a handful of the old faithful.

As Theodor, a good man with good intentions, wrestles with his life purpose and the pervasive loss of faith all around him, his old mentor, Jonas (Thomas Hanzon)—the man who inspired him to become a priest—returns to town.

The timing seems fortuitous, and Theodor eagerly pays him a visit.

The much-anticipated reunion quickly takes a dark detour when Jonas begins espousing strange beliefs about Biblical prophecy, claiming to understand the Lord’s will.

Convinced that his old friend is no longer mentally stable, Theodor is more than happy to wash his hands of the ugly mess.

However, when his wife collapses at home and ends up in the hospital with a severe case of mysterious sepsis, fighting for her life, Jonas returns to offer salvation. Promising that “only the blood of a sinner can save her,” he urges Theodor to follow him if he hopes to save Felicia’s life.

The task is simple but horrifying: accept the “true priesthood” and become a soldier for God, sacrificing an evil life to save a good one. It just so happens a serial rapist has recently been released from prison after completing his sentence.

Jonas has done the heavy lifting. The rapist is now gagged and tied up in his basement. All Theodor has to do is land the fatal blow.

In exchange for his “service” to the Lord, Felicia makes an immediate and miraculous recovery. Soon after, she learns she’s pregnant with their first child. And the blessings don’t stop there. News of Theodor’s seemingly divine healing power has spread through the parish, and his now-packed church is thriving.

In addition to the devoted congregation eager to be closer to God through Theodor, his gift inevitably brings those desperate for their own miracles.

The first to ask is a young couple, Adam (Charlie Gustafsson) and his ill, invalid wife Hannah (Isabelle Grill). “It doesn’t work that way,” Theodore insists, “we can’t just make demands of God.”

The devoted priest soon learns that he must continue eradicating the world of evil, taking more and more lives so that God will reward him and grace his parishioners.

It’s a nasty moral quandary.

The men who Theodor murders are vile sexual predators, and killing them heals the innocent. Yet, the murders are savage and brutal, and he must wrestle with his conscience, considering if the end justifies the monstrous means.

Meanwhile, a skeptical man on a crusade to bring down cult leaders, Erik (Vilhelm Blomgren), makes his presence known, drawn to the parish after reading an article about Theodor’s miracle work.

Later, as the stakes for his mission escalate, and the consequences for failing to deliver for God are made horrifyingly clear, the nightmare of his chosen path comes fully into the light.

Written and directed by Ludvig Gür, IN THE NAME OF GOD is part moody crime thriller, part creepy religious horror film, part psychological horror, and part MIDSOMMAR-esque folk horror examining the dark side of faith and religious sacrifice.

The idea that God may be vengeful and bloodthirsty, demanding ritual sacrifice in exchange for good fortune as outlined in the Old Testament, is not a particularly hard pill to swallow for anyone who grew up in the church or has an intimate understanding of scripture.

In the Name of God presents a sort of Faustian bargain, in which a lost soul makes a deal—not with the Devil but with God Himself—to get what he wants, even if it means losing his soul in the bargain.

But is the true priesthood ordained by God, or are there more sinister forces vying for Theodor’s soul?

I won’t give that away, of course, but suffice it to say the ending is explosive and took the film in places I wasn’t expecting.

It’s a fitting culmination for a taut and chilling Scandinavian horror film that is gripping and emotional, with great performances, ample tension, and stellar direction.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4
IN THE NAME OF GOD was screened for this review at the Chattanooga Film Festival 2024 as part of the festival’s virtual programming.  

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