Cult DVD Review
Written by Eric "The Hitman" Strauss
DVD released by Maverick Entertainment
Directed by Joe Knee
Written by Ben Oren
2007, Region 1 (NTSC), 85 minutes, Not rated
Taryn Manning as Cassandra
Rachel Miner as Mindy
Glenn Dunk as Bailey
Robert Berson as Quinlin
Susie Park as Kwan Yin
and Joel Michaely as Alex
A filmmaker once remarked that there comes a moment in every movie where a character has the power to prevent all the horrible things that are to come.
There are about a half-dozen of those moments for Mindy, the heroine of Cult, and every time, she forges ahead and condemns her friends, to the point where it becomes almost a running joke in the film itself.
See, the college student is leading a research project on the massacre at a temple to a martyred Chinese girl — complete with mysterious amulet and ocular destruction — and the more her grip on reality slips, the more the bodies pile up around her, the more her professor encourages her to write about something else.
You know, something safe?
But every time Professor Estabrook (Fiona Horne) or her classmates and research partners — even her father — try to get her to relax and move on, she refuses. And usually, it's a death sentence for whoever's advice went unheeded.
The funny thing is, even though Mindy is dogmatically determined to solve the mystery of the bloody events that inspire the film, she is not actually in the cult itself. But the movie manages to rise above that shaky underpinning and maintain its tension and entertainment value — even if there are times when it's hanging on by its fingernails.
The best thing going for the film is its acting. Despite some obvious B-movie roots when it comes to production values, the cast is a notch above. Rachel Miner, who plays Mindy, made her name in the controversial Bully and has gone on to play roles in such prominent films as The Black Dahlia and the After Dark Horrorfest participant Penny Dreadful.
And if her character isn't always the most coherent or reasonable, she gives it the old, well, college try, and gives the film a believable center to build around.
No small feat when Ben Oren's script has characters react to friends' deaths by doing things like stealing amulets from holy sites, going to frat parties and sneaking past police lines to steal evidence. As opposed to, say, taking advantage of university-provided counseling that would be all over them in the real world.
Speaking of mistakes in characterization, Taryn Manning co-stars and claims a prominent place on the box cover. She's another actress with a lot of big-name credits (8 Mile, Hustle & Flow, White Oleander) but in reality, the sexy blonde is woefully underused as Cassandra, taking a back seat to the less-experienced Glenn Dunk, who plays her boyfriend Bailey, a sort of love interest for Mindy.
The supporting cast usually avoids embarrassing itself, with Horne lending an Aussie accent to the thankless task of Expositor Extraordinaire and Robert Berson appropriately intimidating as Owen Quinlin, the head of the cult who set the movie's events in motion.
Joel Michaely gets the only real laughs as Alex, the university mascot, but truth be told, he grates more than he entertains.
It's strange. Cult has gotten mostly negative reviews from what I've seen, but it's not half-bad if you can forgive its flaws. Yes, the characters' reactions to their predicament are justthisside of believable, but director Joe Knee is just as determined as his Mindy to keep things afloat.
And he succeeds. Barely. Yes, you're going to start with the arched eyebrows and uncomfortable chuckles if you start discussing the film once it's over. But while it's playing, you'll be riveted to the screen, if only because you've come to respect Mindy's fearsome desire, and you want to know how it plays out.
Video and Audio:
The anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen video is passable but inconsistent. The source elements show their low-budget roots, with plenty of grain and softness. But the best scenes are clear and bright, and all in all, the DVD gets the job done — few, if any, scenes are rendered unclear by the flaws.
The English 5.1 surround track likewise gets a passing grade. There's some hollowness in the opening and closing narration, but overall dialogue is solid. The surrounds, as with most of Maverick's "simulated" tracks, are used more for an all-encompassing aural experience than a true mix with discrete sounds coming from the rear speakers.
Optional Spanish subtitles are included.
Cult's primary extra is an audio commentary featuring director Joe Knee and producer Stephen Fromkin. The two offer the usual low-budget mix of technical information, over-praise/self-deprecation and funny stories… which get both more entertaining and less coherent when they really get into the beer-drinking. Despite some goofiness that ensues, it's actually pretty informative, especially when it comes to the use of some popular actresses in an indie.
Still, haters of "distracted" commentaries will probably be turned off, and the constant mic feedback is disappointing.
There are also trailers for Recon 2020, The Brink, Red Passport and Maya's Soul.
Cult really sets itself up for a fall. It's obvious Mindy and her pals could walk away at any time and feel like they've made the right choice — and the same could be said of anyone watching. But for me, as with Mindy, there was just something to Cult that kept me involved and saw me through to the end. And I was glad I did.
It's worth the price of a rental to see which side you end up on.
(Note that the disc reviewed was a screener version of the final disc, so A/V and special features may be slightly different on the regular release.)
(Weapons of Choice: Mitsubishi 1080 series 42" TV, Sony DVP-CX995V DVD player, Bose Lifestyle 25 Series II speakers, Apple iBook G4 and, in certain situations, Panasonic 27" TV, Panasonic A110 DVD player and Bose TriPort headphones.)
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