directed by Joe Knee
(Maverick, 2007)

Maybe the dark and edgy version of Rachel Miner turned my head or something, but I have to admit I found Cult to be a quite watchable film. I'm not saying the story is solid (it isn't) or that the plot doesn't jump over many an illogical pothole (it does), but I would argue that there are plenty of horror films worse than this one.

The "cult" of the title is centered on the worship of Kwan Ying, a long-dead Chinese maiden who was brutally slain by her own father for getting pregnant with a lower-class man's child; the old man was so ashamed that he cut out both of his daughter's eyes before stabbing her in the abdomen, the whole point of which was to destroy her soul along with her body. Young Kwan Ying, however, was chanting over an amulet while she died, which somehow saved her soul or something.

Fast forwarding to the present day, we learn that the amulet was finally discovered 20 years ago by a mysterious fellow named Owen Quinlin. Quinlin thought he could extract great power from the amulet by arranging for a bunch of hot young ladies to ritually sacrifice themselves for him -- and it would have worked, were it not for one brave victim who refused to let him take her soul.

You would think that a 20-year-old massacre at a local temple would sort of stick in the memory of people, but the whole bloody matter has somehow moved into the class of legend, the cult all but forgotten. Until, that is, college student Mindy (Rachel Miner) convinces four of her classmates to make a study of the Quinlin cult for a group project in religion class. Her professor doesn't think it's a good idea, but Mindy is determined to see it through -- even after one of her group members ends up dead in an eerily Kwan Ying-like way.

So far, so good. From this point on, though, the film just doesn't try hard enough. We already know what Mindy doesn't -- namely, why she is so obsessed with the cult massacre -- and, unfortunately, this means we also pretty much know how everything is going to play out in the end. There is a half-hearted attempt to develop some of the other characters, but all of them remain pretty stereotypical and -- in one case -- incredibly juvenile and annoying. As for the jade amulet at the center of everything, its power is never really explained.

There is plenty to nit-pick and complain about with Cult, what with people and objects being magically transported to different places, a bloody crime scene that still hasn't been cleaned up days after the victim was declared a suicide, the least developed possible love triangle ever, and the whole story rapidly plunging headfirst down the rabbit hole on its way to a wholly illogical conclusion. I can forgive a lot of that, but I don't think there is any possible justification for the "Dancing Bear" scene. Still, the story -- weak as it was -- kept me interested, there was a decent amount of blood, and Rachel Miner is pretty hot, so Cult is by no means a total loss of a horror film.

review by
Daniel Jolley

2 April 2011

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