Saturday, August 06, 2022

Fantasia ’22: Cult Hero

Despite Canada's reputation for politeness, it turns out many of their satanic cults are quite inconsiderate. Their nemesis, one-time reality TV star and self-appointed cult-buster Dale Domazar can even be downright rude. He is also a total idiot, but Domazar means well, mostly. Regardless, he has a chance to redeem himself after the People’s Temple-like incident that ended his TV career in Jesse T. Cook’s Cult Hero, which received the Silver Award for Best Canadian Feature at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Technically, Domazar was right about Theoren the Shepherd, but as we see in the prologue, he handled the situation badly. “Karen”-ish realtor Kallie Jones will give him a chance anyway, because he is the first cult deprogrammer she finds on a Craigslist-like site, but she is a demanding customer. In fact, her husband Brad was eager to stay at Master Jagori’s not-so-innocent New Age spa, to get away from her nagging.

Unfortunately, Jagori has some sort of body-part harvesting operation going on, as Brad comes to suspect. Yet, he still appreciates the peace and quiet. That is something his wife and Domazar will have little of, as they hide out in the creepy old Gothic Victorian house she has been unable to sell.

The initial sequences of
Cult Hero appear as the VHS recordings of his reality show, but fear not. The rest of the film is presented as a proper movie. This is not a deliberately distressed-looking retro-grindhouse flick that tries to make a virtue of its minimal production values. Granted, Cult Hero is often meatheaded, but it is no Ninja Badass. In fact, under all the manic acting out, there is a sly sense of humor at work.

Ry Barrett deserves some kind of award for playing it so straight as the tragically un-self-aware Domazar. Liv Collins is even more intense and funnier, as Jones. Conversely, Justin Bott looks almost impossibly sad and weary as Jones’ poor husband. Even though her character is a villain, Jessica Vano often drolly expresses the audience’s attitudes as Jones’ seductive realtor-rival, Cynthia Doyle.

There is a lot of attention to genre-detail in
Cult Hero, which is probably why it scored so well at the festival. It keeps things snappy, but never grows too enamored with its own gimmicks. It is all rather amusingly chaotic, in a brisk, unselfconscious way. Recommended for fans retro-cult thrillers, Cult Hero had its world premiere at this year’s Fantasia.