‘Sheep’s Clothing’ Review: Gripping and Brutally Human Religious Horror

Sheep's Clothing

Charismatic leaders manipulating their followers into doing their dirty work is a tale as old as time. The new religious thriller Sheep’s Clothing explores this topic with brutal realism. Written and directed by Kyle McConaghy and edited by Jana Emig, Sheep’s Clothing follows a man with a traumatic brain injury as he’s led down a dark path by the pastor at his church.

Mansa (Aaron Phifer) was a straight-laced and well-respected public school administrator who was deeply passionate about his community and district. But then an irate coach (Matthew Bushell) attacked him with a baseball bat after Mansa informed him that several students had reported him for sexual misconduct and that official proceedings were underway.

Now recovering from the assault and rehabbing his TBI, Mansa has found comfort and community in the Core Fellowship church. There, he has a video production gig and a close relationship with the pastor. On the surface, Pastor (Nick Heyman) is genial and dedicated to the church. But he has a carefully hidden temper. And he’s gotten on the bad side of one of his congregants, Terry (Sean Hayman). Terry has made numerous donations to the church and is now demanding that Pastor return the money. When Mansa tries to de-escalate an altercation between the two, Terry lunges at him. Pastor then hits Terry in the head with a hammer, killing him.

Pastor then enlists Mansa to help him get rid of the body. Mansa is horrified. He knows it’s wrong. But he goes along with it anyway. After all, Pastor killed Terry to protect him, didn’t he? And hasn’t Pastor been so kind and generous? How could Mansa not help him? But as they drive out of town to dump the corpse, Pastor’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic. Suddenly, Mansa is left wondering if he’s next on the chopping block.

While Sheep’s Clothing can be categorized as religious horror, it stands in sharp contrast to most others in the genre. There are no demonic possessions, Satanic pregnancies, or delusions of sainthood. The horror of Sheep’s Clothing lies within the disturbingly realistic depictions of abuses of power, sudden bursts of violence, and coercive control.

In addition to a tension-filled story, the film serves as a compelling dual-character study. Mansa abruptly shifts from being a protector of vulnerable people to being a vulnerable person himself. Throughout the film, we see him struggle to reclaim himself as he recovers from his traumatic brain injury. After the murder, he grapples with his loyalty to Pastor, which is in direct conflict with his own morality.

Pastor is an interesting antagonist and foil to Mansa’s character. He’s self-centered, impulsive, and manipulative. He uses his “friendship” with Mansa to prop himself up as a bastion of righteousness. Early in the film, Pastor has Mansa testify during a church service (with Mansa’s speech still shaky because of his TBI), during which he embraces him, presents him as his “main man,” and makes it a point to emphasize his church’s racial diversity. His treatment of Mansa is patronizing and imbued with racist and ableist microaggressions—which Mansa seems to recognize and choose to ignore in the interest of maintaining the relationship. He speaks to Mansa as if he were a child and doesn’t hesitate to rope him into his cover-up.

He’s a bad person, but he’s not a highly intelligent and calculating criminal mastermind. His villainry is mundane and intrinsically human—which makes it all the more horrifying to watch.

The cast in Sheep’s Clothing is phenomenal. Aaron Phifer, who also co-wrote and produced the film, gives a captivating performance as Mansa. Everything from his TBI-affected speech and gait to his moments of panic is heartbreakingly believable. Nick Heyman’s portrayal of Pastor is equally noteworthy. He embodied the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing perfectly. Heyman was also a co-writer. The rest of the cast—Matthew Bushell as the coach, Sean Hayman as Terry, Erin LeShawn Wiley as Terry’s wife Lori, Shelby Sulak and Keyon McConaghy as congregants Holly and Owen, Scotty Tovar and Julio Perez as Pastor’s neighbors Reggie and Manuel, and Sterling Macer Jr. as unlucky witness Jay—provides additional and crucial depth to the narrative.

In addition to religious manipulation, the film presents an interesting exploration of race, disability, and self-preservation.

Sheep’s Clothing is now available to watch on demand.



A man with a traumatic brain injury is led down a dark path by his charismatic “wolf in sheep’s clothing” pastor.



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