Sunday, June 27, 2021

Gela Babluani’s Sekta

Russians have certainly had their share of personality cults. Of course, Stalin is the most notorious for ruling through his cult of personality, but he really wasn’t that much more extreme than Lenin before him. Clearly, Putin has used them both as models, but he never has never been able to carry the “Dear Leader” mantle with the same credibility. Frankly, that makes any talk of cults in Russia rather gutsy, but Georgian filmmaker Gela Babluani dives in with both feet, depicting not one, but two dangerous and deranged cults in the 8-episode Sekta, which is now streaming on MHz.

Demidov is an aloof alcoholic who does not suffer fools gladly. He is not much fun to be around, but he is an effective deprogrammer of cult-members. He largely operates outside the law, since his M.O. involves the kidnapping of his “clients.” Ironically, there is an undercover cop on his team, Koreyets, who infiltrated Demidov’s operation before he realized the cults they fight represent a far greater danger to society.

Their latest case will be the well-heeled Nika, who has been selected to be a human sacrifice by the Primordial, a powerfully-connected sect led by the shadowy Berk. Her parents demanded Demidov have a nurse present for the deprogramming, so he hired the down-on-her luck Lilya. It turns out Lilya can well relate to Nika’s experiences, because she too was once part of a cult. Lilya was the wife of the wildly psychotic John, but she came to her sense after barely surviving a Jonestown-style mass suicide he orchestrated. Lilya is determined to protect her daughter Kira from her father’s legacy and influence, but there is no denying the girl is a little spooky.

Babluani broke-out internationally with
13 Tzameti and the English remake 13, but at this point Sekta probably represents a comeback for him. It is certainly translates well for Western audience, because it incorporates some mildly supernatural elements into a deeply paranoid thriller. The pacing probably would have been tighter and tenser if the eight episodes could have been condensed into maybe six, but isn’t that always the case?

Regardless, as Demidov, Evgeniy Koryakovskiy looks like a walking PSA for chronic alcoholism and depression, which is impressive. He doesn’t give warm-fuzzies, but it is a compelling character and performance. Svetlana Khodchenkova is probably the most recognizable cast-member (thanks to
The Wolverine and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), but her angst gets a bit thick as Lilya. However, Anastasiya Christyakova does a nice job portraying the re-emergence of Nika’s persona, after the Primordial cult submerged it into oblivion. Of the two sinister cult leaders, Filipp Yankovskiy’s Berk is the creepier.

Throughout it all, Babluani’s execution is slick and cinematic. While the villainy comes from the cults, the corruption of the Russian state and police militia also clearly comes into play. If you were (ill-advisedly) considering a trip to Russia,
Sekta might make you reconsider. Recommended for fans of cult (meaning the subject matter rather than a fan-following) thrillers and horror, Sekta is now streaming on MHz.