Indie filmmaker Kyle Freeman is hired to create a documentary about The Temple of the Last Days—a notorious cult that met its chilling end in an Arizona desert back in 1975. As he travels to the cult’s birthplaces in London and France, and its infamous demise in the United States, a series of uncanny events plague all his shoots: out-of-body experiences, visits in the night, ghastly artifacts appearing in their rooms each evening, and the deaths of their interviewees.
What exactly it is the cult managed to awaken – and what is its interest in Kyle Freeman?
Sorry for the dark horror two in one, readers! I tend to read in phases (even with review copies from publishers) so I review in phases too. But I’ll try to make the next review something different.
Ooof. I’m – I’m not sure. I find Adam Neville’s work difficult – I don’t like or even really enjoy the books, but I can’t put them down. I found this particular book similar to his previous work in that it relied over-much on ultra-grim. So why do I keep reading the things? Because Adam Neville know how to tell a properly horrifying story. He knows how to not just creep me out, but how to disgust me and make me afraid.
I’m going to take a moment to expound on a theory I have about horror novels. I think they need spots of light amidst the dark. This is for a couple of reasons – first it gives the reader a bit of a break. Secondly, it makes the horror stand out more, makes it more effective.
Last Days has no bright spots. From the moment they experience the first, horrific thing to the last moment the only thing that could even be called a bright spot is still bloody horrible. The effect of this isn’t to drive the horror in more deeply, but to tire the reader out. It is exhausting to read something where it is never-ending awfulness from beginning to end, and it means you become more critical. You spot things – little contextual details – that would be less damning in a work that was less tiring. I would never have noticed, for example, the reference towards ‘predatory bisexual’ (do you know how annoying it is to have ‘bisexual’ constantly associated with negative things in fiction? Pretty tiring) and ‘effeminate’ used as a descriptor of awful unnaturalness (wow, I wasn’t aware that being female or looking female is so awful that terrible, unnatural monsters should have it as a descriptor, thanks). These are minor things, petty things! Irritating, but not a big deal (to me, normally). But because the book had exhausted my ability to care, I spotted them, and they bothered me.
Ooof. That attacking of minor issues done, lets talk about writing!
Neville knows how to build tension and fear effectively with his writing, and while I normally prefer a slower-burning horror, I appreciate his desire to get right down in the nitty-gritty so early on. One problem I do have is that Neville overwrites, especially at the start of the book. His sentences can be overlong and confusing. I remember reading an early description of Sister Katherine two or three times before I could properly parse what he was saying.
Still, I stayed up till 1 am to get to only 50 pages to the end, and sat down and finished it over breakfast the morning after, so it does its job. Last Days is an addictive read, difficult to put down. Part of that is the tight plotting, part is the characterisation. Kyle Freeman inhabits the rare company of ‘horror protagonists who I can understand not just running away to a cave in Madagascar’. I don’t like how he learns everything from several-page-long speeches from other characters though. It works along with the conceit of Kyle being a filmmaker and taping interviews but still. I like my characters to have some mental initiative and not just be stubborn question-askers.
Ultimately I’d say go for it, but with caveats. If you don’t like ultra-grim horror, you simply will not enjoy this at all.
- The Ritual by Adam Nevill (dreadfultales.com)