One of the scariest things about cults is that they can form right under our noses. Cult leaders need to psychologically isolate their followers in order to maintain control, but they don’t have to keep everyone on a remote island in order to do so. Still, perhaps the best way to illustrate the intense psychological control that cult leaders achieve is to tell a story about a cult that’s geographically isolated from the real world. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate how a deeply disturbed man could earn the trust and respect of a whole community of devout followers is to confine that man and his followers to a remote location that seems to exist in a universe of its own. In Nikias Chryssos’s A Pure Place, a sickeningly imaginative film that he wrote with Lars Henning Jung, the entire population of a remote Greek island is under the spell of a charming and charismatic leader named Fust (Sam Louwyck). This deeply disturbed (but powerful) man is utterly obsessed with cleanliness, and he’s positioned himself as a savior who will lead the people to a pure place that’s free from man’s worst enemy: dirt. In addition to following Fust, the community also worships Hygeia, the Greek goddess of cleanliness. The cult is intense and otherworldly, so separated from the real world that Fust’s twisted desires have become the only law. The one thing connecting this mysterious island to the outside world is the product that Fust’s followers make in his factory: soap.
“Be careful what you wish for, be certain what you pray for:” Religious intentions are put on trial in “The Righteous” [Fantasia International Film Festival]
If you’re into Southern Gothic literature, you’ll go nuts over Mark O’Brien’s feature directorial debut, The Righteous, which screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival earlier this month. Granted, it was filmed in Canada and not the American South, but it sure does capture the dread, madness, religious anxiety, supernatural freakishness, and overall darkness of the genre. The Righteous tells the tale of ex-priest Frederic (Henry Czerny) and his wife, Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk), who are trying to make sense of their lives after they lose their only daughter. The couple’s mourning process comes to a halt one night when a stranger, Aaron (Mark O’Brien), shows up outside their home with a sprained ankle. Aside from his irreverent vocabulary and general secretiveness, Aaron is a harmless, mild-mannered kid. However, his presence casts a haunting shadow over Frederic and Ethel’s household, a shadow that will change their lives forever.
You may want to leave a few lights on to watch “The Last Thing Mary Saw,” a visually petrifying feature debut from writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti. [Fantasia International Film Festival]
You don’t necessarily need complex characters or ingenious plot twists to write an engaging story. With strong imagery and a clear, palpable tone that physically affects your audience, you can transform the most overdone plot into a memorable tale. Writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti demonstrates that kind of storytelling craftsmanship in his feature debut, The Last Thing Mary Saw, which premiered at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. Every aspect of this suffocatingly dark period drama, including its characters and plot, takes a backseat to its tone and mood. As a result, The Last Thing Mary Saw is bursting with palpable dread that will chill you to the bone.
“Luz: The Flower of Evil” offers a folk-horror tale that is both all-too-realistic and wonderfully fantastical
Originally published on Elements of Madness
Last year, Ari Aster set the bar high for “daylight” horror films with Midsommar, a terrifying fantasy that casts its disturbing events against a beautiful, blossoming, sunlit backdrop. The genre-play proved to be quite successful for Aster, although the effect is not so much scary as it is genuinely disturbing. Fans of Midsommar will find a somewhat similar effect in Luz: The Flower of Evil, a folk-horror fantasy from writer/director Juan Diego Escobar Alzate. Combining the narrative elements of religious-cult horror films such as The Other Lamb (2019) with the vibrancy of Midsommar, Luz: The Flower of Evil is a stunning and layered exploration of faith, evil, and the search for meaning.
Feminist folktale horror film “The Other Lamb” is resonant and memorable, but loses itself in symbolism
Originally published on Elements of Madness
If Céline Sciamma’s recently released Portrait of a Lady on Fire paints a picture of female community and camaraderie at its best, honing in on the lives of women as they create space for each other outside of patriarchal society, then Malgorzata Szumowska’s The Other Lamb illustrates the opposite end of the spectrum. With a fervent religious cult as the vehicle for its nightmarish story, The Other Lamb spins a haunting tale about the limitations of female friendship and identity under patriarchal influence. This “tale” is, of course, still an everyday reality for many women, and the horrors of the story will no doubt resonate with a large audience. It’s cathartic and angry, but before releasing its rage, it sympathetically explores touchy subjects like desire, Stockholm syndrome, and the confusing web of signification that fights for control over the female body.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."