Saturday, December 16, 2017

One of Us: The Horror of the Hippy Harem Cult

Brent (if that is his real name) must be a cult leader. He has his followers convinced GMO food is dangerous despite the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. They accept his pronouncements uncritically, because they have fallen under the sway of his dominating charisma. The mind-control drugs also help. An investigative journalist will infiltrate his Ascension Family Commune, but she might be falling under his influence as well in Blake Reigle’s One of Us (trailer here), which is now available on DVD, from Monarch Home Entertainment.

Melanie Roberts has a talent for sniffing out stories, but she is not so good at living responsibly, despite the efforts of her ex-cop big sister Sophie and her easily up-managed editor. Right from the start, her latest story is dangerously personal. Roberts received a distressed phone call from her college friend Haley Cooper that was rather ominously cut-off mid-sentence. Her last known whereabouts was the Java Collective, a coffee shop run by Brent’s harem-like cult.

Like a savvy journo, Roberts basically throws herself at Partridge Family Cult and they accept her without a second thought, especially Brent, who is quite welcoming indeed. Awkwardly, her new roommate Luna is the only one who distrusts and resents her presence. Of course, there is a strict no cellphone policy, requiring her to turn over her phone. Unfortunately, that means her sister will not be able to warn her when she figures out just how dangerous Brent truly is.

At a time when cultural and political identity is becoming increasingly tribalized, a film that warns of the dangers of cults is rather welcome. However, One of Us pales in comparison to recent standouts, like The Sacrament and Faults. To their credit, screenwriters Andrea Ajemian & Blaine Chiappetta do a nice job establishing Brent’s evil New Age doctrines. The problem is the film is too blasted restrained. Most of those 1970s network made-for-TV horror films starring Kate Jackson are more intense than this.

Still, Derek Smith is chillingly convincing as the Svengali-like Brent. Watching him is practically a masterclass in cult manipulation, which would be a bad thing if someone really started to apply it. In contrast, Christa B. Allen is a problematically weak lead. However, that leaves room for Ashley Wood to steal scenes as the refreshingly proactive and well-armed Sophie Roberts. Amongst all the cult members, Chasty Ballesteros stands out as Luna, because she shows the greatest range and her character gets the most dramatic development arc.

If nothing else, One of Us gives us a vivid reminder that anyone who won’t shut up about GMO junk science probably belongs to a cult. It sets up the sinister inner workings of the Commune quite credibly, but it never goes sufficiently bonkers. It’s not bad, but there just ought to be more. Only for serious cult obsessives, One of Us is now available on DVD, from Monarch Home Entertainment.