Following a family tragedy, a female student agrees to go on a trip to Sweden with her boyfriend and his friends to attend a religious festival at a secluded commune. However once there she begins to witness the community’s unusual ceremonies and suspect not all is what it seems.
The second movie from Hereditary director Ari Aster certainly has influences from The Wicker Man, with its focus on Pagan rituals, and also bares resemblances to religious cults like The Manson Family and Heaven’s Gate. Yet Aster also sprinkles it with his own ideas and haunting imagery and with an exploration of human drama at the centre of the horror, like Hereditary this again disturbs. Lead actress Florence Pugh is mesmerising as someone already dealing with grief, faced with uncertainty in her relationship and then unfamiliar surroundings that initially seem exactly what she needs – and then something else entirely. The movie also explores passive-aggressive behaviour amongst the various characters which only adds to the tension.
It is a bit long at over 2 and a half hours, and gets predictable towards the end with a little too much foreshadowing … but direction is effective with great use of sound, unconventional editing and (cleverly) daylight to build unease. A movie that further cements Ari Aster as one of the most interesting horror directors working today.
Has to be said, I’m becoming quite a fan of relatively unknown horror director Ti West, following the double hits of the unsettling House of the Devil and the gentler The Inkeepers. This latest offering sees him turning to the found-footage / religious cult sub genres to deliver another gradual build up experience. A film crew working for an underground TV channel travel to a remote island to report on a religious cult, following the revelation that their photographer’s sister has started living there.
This competently acted, slow burning thriller has plenty of shaky hand-held cameras, tense interviews with the locals, and a stand-out performance from Gene Jones as the worshipped cult leader referred to as ‘father’. Although the material is very familiar if you’ve seen the likes of Red State or Martha Marcy May Marlene, this was still done well and offers the viewer both sides of the coin; a very attractive existence as well as something much more sinister. The closing moments were tough viewing and pretty disturbing (…the baby) and left me shaken but also impressed with what Ti West had delivered, managing to pull the rug out from under me yet again.
I’d have really liked it to have gone a bit deeper into the inner-workings of the cult and their motivations, but to say any more would spoil it, so basically – this is another decent offering from one of the more interesting voices in horror.
When most people think of the name Kevin Smith, they immediately conjure up images of slacker comedies like Mallrats and Clerks and characters like Silent Bob. Yet he has also turned his hand to somewhat deeper themes in the likes of Dogma and Chasing Amy. With that being said, he has never really been known for horror or thrillers – until now.
This follows the story of three friends who answer an add-on website to hook up with a woman for sex. These hormonal guys think it’s their ticket to getting laid, and are soon setting off to meet the woman at her current residence – a trailer. Yet all is not as it seems, and before long the guys have been drugged and become the hostages of a local, notorious religious cult, lead by unhinged preacher Abin Cooper (the brilliant Michael Parks). At the same time, a Sheriff being blackmailed by the preacher due to some questionable nocturnal activities, calls in a local special agent (John Goodman) to lay siege to the cult.
This movie borrows heavily from real life cult situations like that of The Manson Family and Waco, and for me was totally gripping. The three teens may not have a personality between them, and their plight is somewhat self-inflicted, but the cult and their beliefs was believably scary and unpredictable – meaning I was always wondering what was going to happen next. Several times the movie surprised me, and some deaths really knocked me back in my seat. For the subject, I don’t think Kevin Smith offered any new insights, and just why the cult did what they did wasn’t very clear. Smith has previously explored controversial subject matter, and like his earlier Dogma, this touches on subjects that some may find questionable. Sadly there isn’t the depth to really get to the point on any of it, turning more into an action movie half way through, despite a promising opening. Yet with a powerful, creepy performance from Michael Parks, who also stood out in movies like From Dusk Till Dawn and Kill Bill, and a great turn from Goodman, who is always a joy – this was still entertaining. Also, with some interesting nods to 9/11 and how America has changed in the wake of terrorism, I was also left with plenty to think about.
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