An amusing bit of hokum through its first night, Lifetime’s slow-moving supernatural melodrama “The Gathering” gradually falls apart in its second amid lots of loud music, wind-blown hair and chanting in tongues. An able cast buys into the silliness with seeming conviction as this hollow mini about a coven of witches draws on everything from “Salem’s Lot” to “Rosemary’s Baby” but will ultimately leave those who hang on for the full ride feeling more hoaxed than hexed.
John Shiban, who cut his teeth writing for “The X-Files,” employs many of the same tricks, beginning with Jeff Rona’s spooky score. The structure, however, requires prolonging the core mystery well beyond its weight, diluting the horror by teasing it out over four hours.
Peter Gallagher plays Michael Foster, a doctor who wakes up after a freaky nightmare to discover that his wife Ann (Kristin Lehman) has disappeared. His investigation into her absence puts him in touch with Maggy (Jamie-Lynn Sigler of “The Sopranos,” who isn’t seen much despite the prominent billing), a teacher at the school attended by his teenage daughter, Zee (Jenna Boyd).
Maggy dribbles out vague clues about Ann’s absence, and others come from a cop (Hugh Dillon) who has also lost somebody. All signs point to a powerful coven under the stewardship of mogul Thomas Carrier (Peter Fonda, in full snarl), though the goals of the witches’ fiendish plot and wailing incantations remain as fuzzy at the end, frankly, as they do at the beginning.
Practicing a kind of voodoo, the witches use their collective power to try influencing local politics and indulge various carnal whims. Mostly, though, as directed by Bill Eagles, they produce a lot of slow-motion shots of flapping ravens, strange rituals and evil spells that cause the victims to spit blood.
Gallagher’s hero proves rather tepid through little fault of his own, and the various subplots involving Carrier’s grown kids and the awakening of Foster’s daughter (something about a “good blood line”) gradually feel like filler as part two crawls toward the finish line.
For Lifetime, the Halloween-themed project does represent a bit of an ambitious stretch from its usual movies, which have a tendency to focus on earthbound problems culled from the pages of women’s magazines. This mini may be fun for a while, but with so much repetition and so little direction, it’s perhaps inevitable that for all its toil and trouble, “The Gathering” doesn’t so much enthrall us as simply go “poof.”