Here I thought I was settling in for a tight horror flick with that nice Peter Gallagher and his nice bushy eyebrows as the triumphant forces of good. Instead, I struggled through four long hours of disjointed hokum, rubbery voodoo icons, blinking lights, and a fascistic musical score commanding me to be afraid. Alas, those eyebrows are entertaining, but they can't work miracles.
And to add insult to injury, the ending of this Lifetime miniseries - that's two hours tonight at 9, then two more tomorrow night at 9 - isn't truly an ending. Apparently, Lifetime thinks "The Gathering" will be popular enough to spawn a sequel, so after all that time we're left with an ambiguous twist to keep the door open. After sitting through this humorless mess o' hocus pocus, I was ready to lock that door shut, wipe blood on it, and chant it out of existence for the good of all mankind. Instead, I groaned and sat down at the keyboard.
The story involves a coven preparing to take over New York City, or maybe the world - it's not entirely clear. For reasons I can't even guess, Peter Fonda decided to star as the hoodoo guru trying to co-opt the souls of a few significant people, including a local politician. His evil cohort is a ruthless witch played by Susanna Thompson, who was so affecting on "Once and Again." Thompson is the only character in the miniseries who provides camp relief; in one scene in part 2, in which someone spits in her face, she inspires a much needed LOL moment.
Gallagher plays Michael Foster, the doctor husband of Ann (Kristin Lehman) and father of Zee (Jenna Boyd). Michael has a night of crazy dreams involving ravens, circles of blood, and feathers in his daughter's mouth, and he wakes to find that Ann is missing. I'd like to say that he totally freaks out, but Gallagher is so menschy and sensible after his wife disappears without her keys or cellphone that he more accurately is kind of concerned. Meanwhile, Zee dabbles in witchcraft with friends, scenes that are mostly notable for highlighting Boyd's resemblance to a young Kyra Sedgwick.
Jamie-Lynn Sigler shows up as an expert on comparative religion who helps Michael understand what's happening to his family. Yes, Sigler, who was Meadow on "The Sopranos," plays an expert on something, which is a serious casting error that mars all of her scenes. She doesn't muster an authoritative demeanor, and she explains witch covens to Michael as if she were stating the rules of "Jeopardy!" Michael gets more hard-nosed assistance from a cop, who heads up a group of people who have also lost loved ones to Fonda and his goons.
All of this might have been more interestingly told in two hours. There's nothing original in the script, but at least the narrative wouldn't have had time to wander into artsy, operatic montages featuring chanting witches and ravens. There also wouldn't have been time for overacted, awkwardly introduced, and unnecessary subplots about Fonda's family and other secondary characters. "The Gathering" loses any momentum by the end of tonight's segment, and by tomorrow night it is little more than an abra-cadaver.