Welcome back to part two of Cults in Movies: The Good, the Bad, and The Mediocre. Here you’ll find the final six of the 13 films reviewed by Entertainment Editor Gaby Harnish. In this round-up, she lets you know what’s worth the watch…and what you should probably remove from your queue.
Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
The Story: Martha (Elizabeth Olson) has just escaped from a cult in the Catskills lead by a charismatic – and very Manson-esque – leader played by John Hawkes. Her sister, Lucy, takes her into the house that she shares with her fiancé, Ted. Martha is still clearly suffering from Post Traumatic Stress, and her time with the cult is told through flashbacks.
Good, Bad, or Mediocre: Good. Olson is fantastic, and Hawkes has exactly the right type of charisma for the role. Writer-director Sean Durkin does a masterful job at building tension.
Watch It If: You like films where you have to read between the lines and where certain aspects are still left up to interpretation.
Available: To rent on Youtube, Amazon, and iTunes.
The Story: Ansel Roth (Leland Orser), a down-on-his-luck cult specialist peddling his book, agrees to help “deprogram” a young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) after being approached by her parents. He takes her to a hotel room and locks her into the bathroom, but she keeps getting out somehow, and meanwhile his manager keeps calling about the debt that he owes.
Good, Bad, or Mediocre: Good. Often darkly funny, this one is definitely worth watching for Orser’s performance. It does take a more serious turn about two-thirds of the way into it.
Watch It If: You don’t mind films that oscillate between funny and dramatic, and you like dark humor.
Available: On Netflix streaming and Amazon rental.
ROVER: Or Beyond Human – The Venusian Future and the Return of the Next Level
Genre: Comedy with a little Sci-Fi
The Story: A small cult – possibly survivors of Heaven’s Gate – is hiding out in an old church, and lead by Dave, who decides he wants to make a film about his leader and the origins of their group. He puts out a Craigslist ad, and a script-reader with directorial ambitions named Mark responds. Mark finds the cult bizarre and a little unnerving, but as they make the movie together stronger bonds are formed.
Good, Bad, or Mediocre: Mediocre. This is a low-budget film, and the first feature by director-writer Tony Blahd, and it shows. There are lots of good ideas here – and many genuinely funny moments – but the story never really comes together like it should. It appears that the cult is entirely an offshoot of Heaven’s Gate, even featuring some old videos of Heaven’s Gate leader Marshall Applewhite. However, in the film he is only referred to as “Roland,” possibly because of potential lawsuits?
Watch It If: You don’t mind low-budget movies or bizarre endings.
Available: On Amazon Prime streaming.
Holy Smoke! (1999)
The Story: Ruth (Kate Winslet) has a spiritual awakening in India and doesn’t plan on going back to her native Australia. Her parents have other ideas, however, and trick her into coming back under false pretenses, where she is confronted and “deprogrammed” by PJ Waters (Harvey Keitel). Directed by Jane Campion and co-written with her sister Anna.
Good, Bad, or Mediocre: Mediocre, verging on Good but not quite there. The film is beautiful, and true to Campion’s style, gender politics play a big role. The middle of the film is just kind of…middling, although it ends well.
Watch It If: You are a fan of Campion’s work, or if you wish to see Harvey Keitel emasculated.
Available: For rent on Youtube, iTunes, and Amazon Prime.
The Master (2012)
The Story: Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a World War II vet and general fuckup who meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a leader of a religious movement called The Cause. Freddie joins Lancaster as he travels along the East Coast, spreading the news of the religion.
Good, Bad, or Mediocre: Good. PT Anderson at his best. Joaquin’s performance as Freddie is equal parts riveting and disturbing, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is great as L Ron…ahem, I mean Lancaster Dodd. Please don’t sue me.
Watch It If: You’re a film nerd. This film was shot almost entirely in 65mm film stock, and boy is it fucking beautiful to behold. Also a great film for anyone who has read or watched Going Clear.
Available: For rent on Youtube, iTunes, and Amazon Prime.
Genre: TV Drama
The Story: Eddie (Aaron Paul) and his family are members of the Meyerist movement, but after he goes to Peru and takes ayahuasca, he receives a vision that shakes his faith. Eddie is so desperate to keep his doubts a secret from his true believer wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) that he lets her believe he’s unfaithful. Hugh Dancy plays the intense and unofficial leader of the group who has a thing for Sarah.
Good, Bad, or Mediocre: Good, but just barely. Paul and Monaghan are great, but Dancy’s portrayal of Cal is overwrought. His predatory and sexual relationship with new member Mary is a particularly bad arc within the series. Mary is given plenty of screen time, but most of it focuses on her body and sexuality without giving her much of a character – all we know about her is that she was sexually abused and that she has a drug problem. It’s an unfortunate portrayal, but hopefully next season will give her more to do. The teenage talent on this show is particularly strong as well.
Watch It If: You’re a fan of any of the actors in question and you’re not squeamish about sex and violence.
Available: On Hulu.
– – –
Have any we missed? Anything we should check out? Let us know in the comments!
Latest posts by gabyh (see all)
- Cults in Movies: The Good, the Bad, and the Mediocre, Part Deux! - October 19, 2016
- Cults in Movies: The Good, the Bad, and the Mediocre - October 17, 2016
- Life is Strange: The Choices We Make in Coming of Age - March 28, 2016