The Movie Waffler New Release Review (VOD) - THE BLESSED ONES | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (VOD) - THE BLESSED ONES

the blessed ones review
A group of cult members attempt to escape their society.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Patrick O'Bell

Starring: Dave Vescio, Andy Gates, Tamzin Brown, Alex Essoe

the blessed ones poster

If we accept the dictionary definition of the word cult as meaning ‘a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing’, then, in a way, lots of us are part of a cult. Have you seen the football fans, dressed up as their idols, shouting, crying and getting into fights with the fanship of opposing teams/cults? Ever been to a One Direction concert? (for my part, as a lifelong Prince fan, I can fully empathise with the reverence of a sacred person to the exclusion of all else…) And perhaps we can see cinema itself as an allegory for the cult encounter: we sit in the communal dark, focussed entirely upon a vision which is external to each of us, but which serves to offer an intensely unified experience. Following a Seventies heyday wherein cults were generally symptomatic of ‘Satanic Panic!’, and maybe as an attempt to address our increasingly fractured political landscape (where fringe politics has become urgently mainstream), the filmic representation of the cult has experienced a minor resurgence, as seen in Faults, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Sacrament and Tarantino’s forthcoming Manson thing (not forgetting lovely Kimmy Schmidt escaping her bunker…). The idea of a cult is certainly compelling; who doesn’t want meaning in their life, to abdicate responsibility to someone or something else? Who doesn’t want to be a part of something?

the blessed ones

And so, to writer/director Patrick O’Bell’s micro-budget drama The Blessed Ones, which takes as its inspiration real-life doomsday cults such as the ‘Children of God’ and ‘The People’s Temple’ (in further spooky synergy with cinema, pre-adolescent members of ‘The Children of God’ cult included Joaquin Phoenix and the mighty Rose McGowan - yikes!). It’s the usual load of shit with The Blessed Ones’ Polaris Society’s doctrines and dogma: shagging, end is nigh, drink this concoction, blah blah blah. The film opens with a sepia toned montage of mass death photography underscored with discordant, Wayne Bell-esque strings. Relying on our existing prejudices of such matters, the montage’s implication is clear: these are members of a death cult which reached an ultimate conclusion, just like all the others. The fatalism of the group established, we then pick up with a couple of escapees from the commune, who somehow managed to avoid drinking the tainted Kool-Aid…

the blessed ones

O’Bell’s narrative continues as an ellipsis of flashbacks, flashforwards and even - I think, such is the fragmented nature of the plot - flashsideways to relate the story of Spencer’s (Andy Gates) indoctrination, escape and eventual arrest following the mass sacrifice. There’s an undercover copper involved, a creepy figurehead, and the occasional trippy interlude (i.e., frames put through a filter). The members who lay dead at the start of the film were the lucky ones: at least they got out early. The thing is that, in and of themselves, cults are tremendously boring (you don’t want to hear me banging on about Prince b-sides…), with the only interesting things about them being the damage they do and their mysterious attraction for individual members. The Blessed Ones does little to challenge the inherent dullness of its subject matter. With the grisly denouement of the Polaris Society taken care of at the start (with an assumption that we already understand cults are potentially dangerous), regarding the second possible point of intrigue, the film gives very little exploration as to why ordinary people are drawn to such extreme factions. Spencer just recounts that his wife left him, sending him on a bit of a bender, and then, hilariously, in a manner that recalls Phoebe CatesGremlins Christmas monologue, he adds as an afterthought, ‘and then a few days later I found out my parents had died in a car accident’, as if such circumstances inevitably lead to lifelong membership of an apocalyptic sect. Most of the film simply involves people running about in the woods, chased by some guy with a gun (Jonathan Erickson Eisley). They occasionally stumble across other random escapees, like a fella whose face has been burnt so badly (?) he has to wear a leathery mask - he chases people around with a knife because that’s just what people who have suffered physical disfigurement do in awful films.

the blessed ones

A conspiracy theory… Watching the (funny, warm) The Disaster Artist, James Franco’s film about The Room (a mundanely terrible film), I began to wonder where this modern reverence of so-bad-it’s-good movies is going to end up. The film industry is built upon genre pleasures, standardisation and repetition: could we see a spate of film makers purposefully aping the Tommy Wiseau/ Neil Breen anti-cinema, in an attempt to cash in on the recent craze for audiences demonstrating snide superiority towards failed movies? The Blessed Ones already uses a knowing exploitation lexicon (throughout the film, apropos of nothing, we see gore, psycho killers and at one point a nice big pair of tits: gratuitous doesn’t cover it) and O’Bell clearly knows what he’s doing with framing, with each shot perfectly well composed to capture the pseudo-berserk action. How else to explain lines as clumsily memorable as ‘before you leave, could you please bury the rest of those bodies because they’re really starting to smell’ (*throws spoon at screen*)? Is The Blessed Ones a film about cults that is disingenuously aiming to become a cult film, or, at least, what stands for psychotronic cinema in these times of decadent snark? And if so, is that all cult cinema can aspire to nowadays, a manifestation of smug communal bitchery? Film-shaming? Is this what being ‘a part of something’ means for niche-film fans? If so, pass me that spiked Jesus juice: I’m out.

The Blessed Ones is on Amazon Prime now.