VINE VOICEon 22 July 2013
Information-deficit dogs the steps of ths indie film about a cult.To say it casts shadows over a very decent effort by writer-actress Laura Marling and writer-direrctor Zal Batmanglij,is to say any more clarity would have entailed greater cost and more thorough development.There is the question of cults and what are they,how we approach them,what makes them distinguishable from religions.What do we have to do to give our lives meaning?Cults have got a bad press(eg we have the example of Scientology setting itself up as a mainstream religion for the tax breaks). They are nebulous,they depend upon secrecy and charisma,codes, rituals (showering,handshakes)inexplicable phenomena like time-travel,or coming from the future.Are they masking something sinister?The acting is great,the menace and tension unbearable.Marling is stirring as the beautiful leader of a cult who has to live in this basement,claiming to be from the future.She has to grow her own food and can't venture out.She depends on the blood of her followers.The question of how the documentarian duo investigate a cult they are part of.Dialogue is brilliant in ten sharply written episodes. What is vague is that plot strands remain untied,the ending seems a cop out.Design is low key,simple.The form is crackling.The set upis intriguing,the atmosphere is increased by the unpredictable direction,uncertainty.
What better way into this cult than having 2 documentary film makers, Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna(Nicole Vicius) entering to find out what they can,but masking this with the desire to join the cult.Maggie the cult leader makes an entrance trailing an oxygen tank,suggesting vulnerability,fear of infection,delicacy, high-borne purpose.The guru has come to initiate and test her would-be fellow-travellers.Softly spoken,giving hope,feeding off their mutual curiosity.She claims to be from the future(2054),with no proof save a symbol on her leg and a pop song she sings from the past.These leaders depend upon your faith,any questioning scepticism, withholding, is perceived as cowardice,makes them angry.The news she has come to tell them is the future of wars and famine,their need for preparation for it.Their selection for it.Peter thinks her exposure would prevent all these people killing themselves.He'll make tapes of cult gatherings."To see her is to believe her,but that's how all these cons work".His glasses have inbuilt video,he swallows a receiver.Our argument about this cult are influenced by Peter and Lorna's waverings,fluctuations,fallings-out,disagreements.Peter is against at first then he's for.Lorna accepts it at first but then aids and abets the DoJ in reporting it and trying to bring it down.Peter is asked to abduct a child to meet Maggie,he being a teacher of the child.
Each person who sees the film receives it differently,sees something else with no one meaning.Tying up loose ends would do away with its multi-dimensional scope.We're dealing with group formation of like-minded people,one or two of whom enter sceptically(as our duo of detective journalists to make their documentary to expose the cult and blow its' cover) then find themselves in over their heads.To stay in the group requires `trust' and `faith' with reason in suspension.We tell ourselves this is a scam,what is this ,a reverse mother-daughter situation?How far are people tested to ensure their selection?In this film,ostensibly about going on a journey into the future, journey more important than arrival.What do we have to do to give our livesmeaning? If she is not from the future(likely) has she been indoctrinated as a charismatic leader of a survivalist cult?Is the DoJ lady not what she seems? Does she enlist Lorna's support to encourage Peter to bring Abigail to Maggie?Does Maggie after being seized by the Police get to meet Abigail outside?Are Abigail and Maggie sisters who suffered similar abuse and grooming,learning the handshake in common?
Why are children abducted for this cult(we never find out)?Maggie remembers waking up submerged in a bath(after a drug experience/escaping grooming by a cult?) and is picked up by Klaus, returned,fed and revived.Abigail is being injected between her toes by her father who appears to be indoctrinating her using a labtop.She often goes to sleep in public and builds strange lego buildings.Peter's dislike of cults springs from his mother being in a cult and her dying when he was 13 from cancer. The future is a maguffin,Maggie's in hiding for felony and arson.The idea she's from the future is lame as there is not enough backing for this idea in terms of evidence, production costs.Has she been groomed(like Abigail,her sister,daughter,mother???) to lead this new militia movement in the coming civil war?Lorna has been shown how to shoot a gun in the woods by one of the cult members.What the film required was a rewrite by David Mamet the master of the art of scam and con scenarios.The snap of action would have adrenalised it.As it is a series of individually brilliant scenes,loose beads without a connecting thread. Well worth seeing but it could have been so much better with not much more effort.Batmangklij has made a superb debut.Marling has created a complex female character, but she needs to get it housed in a good story.