Ralph C Cinque
Enlisted to check out the goings on at a mysterious church and two missing women, Joe's investigative instincts are still sharper than ever, and he's known to be persistent, to say the least. Polite too! It's a small town, so even though everyone knows he's no longer sheriff and has become a private investigator, witnesses are still willing to talk to him and let him try to buy the occasional cup of coffee for his trouble. One woman, Colette, seems happy to answer some questions – the other, Abby, ain't allowed anywhere close to this meddling former law officer. Something about Colette certainly doesn't seem on the level, and we also start to wonder about the intentions of Reverend Jones and his role. Is he leading a cult? Is it as simple as the secrets within the closed confines of a church? Is it a love triangle, the abuse of a power dynamic, or the corruption of youth? Is Abby being held against her will? What is going on?
The mystery runs deep, and the questions keep coming, which is what you want in a good thriller, right? As friendly as Joe might appear, he's still going to need some help to get these characters to fork over the answers. Some undercover operations and a little luck wouldn't hurt, either. This modern-day mystery pulls you in pretty successfully. I think it's fair to say that you can tell this is a film made with its budget kept carefully in mind. Still, they tackle the whole thing right by not putting the characters we see in any scenarios or scenes that would require a whole lot more than what you'd expect in a lot of Q&A between people and the authorities, conversations within the church, or at home with the family. I've got big respect for directors like Jody Stelzig, who understand how to get things done with quality and don't need to break the bank to achieve what they want.
While it does drag a bit in the mid-section of this film compared to how it begins, if you enjoy story building, background details, and whatnot, you'll dig how the details get filled in. I suppose the best way I can put it from my own experience was that the film slowed down quite a bit, yes – but it wasn't ever a case of boredom, and ultimately that's what we all want to avoid. I felt like Joe was essential to my enjoyment and that most of the scenes I felt hit home the most - were the ones where he was directly involved. He's a very watchable character and is played well by Samuel French. However, when he gets beat up, you can feel the sting of sound effects that are a bit over the top, and it's not too far down the road that you get a montage of scenes with music that doesn't really feel like it matches the vibe of the film - almost threatening to take things into television melodrama. So, perhaps there's still some room for director Stelzig to evolve her craft further, in this regard, in the future of her movie-making. Beyond Samuel's acting, there's a fair distance between what he's able to accomplish onscreen and what the others bring, though notably, the main characters like Colette/Abby (Reagan Kelly), Reverend Case Jones (Clinton Springer), and Laura Haladin (Arianne Martin) do hold their own quite well. From there, the list gets thinner as the credits run longer, but it's not unlike a movie to have the folks with the best acting chops on the top with the majority of the screen time, which remains to be true of this film too.
For context and to be completely fair, according to the main credits, "Joe Haladin: The Case Of The Missing Sister" is technically the sequel to "His Stretch Of Texas Ground," – so there could very well be a few things I don't know because I'm jumping into the latter part of the story here. All-in-all, I felt like this title was easily an interesting and watchable flick, and its real core strength revolved around its title character in the top billing, which of course, is great. However, I felt we could have been shown a lot more of what makes this church and its reverend more malicious. Perhaps things also get a bit muddled towards the middle with the introduction of sub-plots that take a bit away from the central mystery and somewhat plunge this story even further towards a kind of twisted family drama - especially if you haven't seen "His Stretch Of Texas Ground" Overall however, "Joe Haladin: The Case Of The Missing Sister" still came out engaging enough as a standalone film. Therefore, I'm going to meet this one straight down the middle with two and a half stars out of five, but with the caveat that I'd still like to see more of this character's story and where it might go from here.