December 16, 2014 -- This is a fictional drama about mass murder and suicide under the leadership of a charismatic religious leader, but the story is very similar to an all too real event, the murder and suicide of over 900 people at Jonestown (Peoples Temple Agricultural Project under the leadership of Jim Jones) Guyana on November 18, 1978.
This is an updated and scaled down story of that tragic historical event. In this new film, Patrick (played by Kentucker Audley) a fashion photographer gets a strange letter from his sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz of “You're Next”) a recovering addict, inviting him to visit her in a remote area of another country. When he tells the story to his friend, Sam, an editor at Vice Media, Sam decides to do a story about Caroline's situation with Patrick's help.
Patrick, Sam and Vice Media photographer Jake (Joe Swanberg of “You're Next”) get on a plane to another country. Once there, they board a helicopter where they fly to a remote area. The helicopter pilot (Christian Ojore Mayfield) tells them he will land the next morning, wait for them one hour, then leave, with, or without them. A truck meets them with two armed guards, who refuse to let them near the camp, called “Eden Parish,” unless they get the O.K. from their leader, called “Father.”
At first, everything seems to be fine at Eden Parish. Everyone they talk to seems friendly and content in this self-contained remote area. People grow their own food. There is a medical facility staffed by a nurse. There is a mixture of races and everyone seems to be getting along with each other just fine. Everyone, except for one woman and her child. The woman says, “We're not allowed to talk to outsiders.” Jake gets a bit uneasy about this whole project.
That night, they arrange an interview with the mysterious “Father,” who says his real name is Charles Anderson Reed (Gene Jones of “No Country for Old Men”). The interview starts out well enough, but Reed turns slippery and vaguely threatening when Sam asks him why there are armed guards in the camp and where the money comes from to run it. The interview is cut short for a celebration which follows with lively gospel music.
Sometime during the celebration, Patrick mysteriously disappears. Sam and Jake can't find him. People from Eden Parish, including the woman and child they met earlier, quietly approach Sam and Jake, telling them that they want to leave Eden Parish, that they and their children are being abused. Sam and Jake begin to fear for their safety. It all goes down hill from there.
This is very much like a “found footage” kind of film (popularized by “The Blair Witch Project”) except that it is slicker because it is supposedly shot and edited by a (fictional) professional news team. The film, directed by Ti West (“The Innkeepers”) is well-constructed and convincing. The acting is effective, especially by Gene Jones, who makes a very convincing crazy cult leader. There is some impressive stunt work in the film, especially in two well-staged suicide shots, one with fire and another with a gun. Some of the credit for those stunts goes to special effects makeup artist Brian Spears and stunt double Jessica Harbeck.
Although this film is classified in the horror genre, it plays more like a suspenseful drama. This is a larger scale and more mainstream film than West's previous films and it shows he has the potential to move beyond the horror genre, as so many other directors have done before him. This is a big improvement over his previous two films, “The ABC's of Death” and “V/H/S.” This film rates a B.
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