By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: He joins a cult.
Despondent over his recent break-up with his girlfriend, David (Nick Mancuso) visits a religious revival group attended by many young adults his age. He finds their incessant, ritualistic games of singing and dancing to be annoying at first as well as their lack of sleep and skimpy diet, but eventually he succumbs to their control. His friend Larry (Saul Rubinek) tracks him down and tries to free him, but realizes they have brainwashed him to such a severe extent that he is forced to concoct an elaborate kidnapping plan in order to bring him to an undisclosed place where he can then be deprogrammed.
Although religious cults aren’t quite as prevalent now back in the 70’s there were many incidents of parents losing their teens or young adult children to the icy grip of these brainwashing organizations and the struggles to bring them back to the real world proved grueling and sometimes futile. This film, based on the nonfiction novel ‘Moonwebs’ by Josh Freed, manages to hit home the finer points of the phenomenon giving the viewer a vivid understanding of the situation not only for those that became members, but their family and friends who had to helplessly watch loved ones devolve into a mindless, robotic shell of what they once were.
One of the drawbacks though is that the protagonist is portrayed too broadly. The film makes it seem as if anyone could get brainwashed by these groups, which I don’t agree with. I realize everyone can at times be vulnerable, but certain people fall more into these mind traps than others and there’s nothing clear as to why David fell prey so badly and just saying he was upset about his recent breakup is not enough of an explanation for a such a severe downward spiral.
Rubinek as his friend is really annoying and turning him into the essential hero of the film makes it even worse. On the petty side I couldn’t stand his overly bushy eyebrows or that he goes on stage dressed as a giant carrot and later a tomato just for cheap laughs, which is the type of guy you want to see fade away not ultimately root for. What really got on my nerves though was how he comes up with such an elaborate kidnapping plan and pulls it off confidently despite having no experience and the fact that he gets so many others to help him do it including his own boss really pushes the film’s credibility badly.
The direction though deserves accolades particularly the first 25 minutes, which detail the different manipulative tactics these groups do in order to wear down the newbies. The shots showing David trying to leave the group and constantly being hounded by other members refusing to ever let him be alone are memorable. I also liked the bird’s eye shots of all the people taking part, which is almost jaw dropping at just how many there were.
The performance by Kim Cattrall as one of the group’s main members nicely illustrates how a young smiling, pretty face could allure a young man to let down his guard only for her to ultimately convey her controlling claws later. The scenes dealing with the deprogramming are good, but could’ve been extended and there’s never any mention of the time frame as the movie makes it seems like it takes only a few days when in reality it could sometimes be weeks or even months. Overall it’s a compelling look at a difficult subject that is quite similar to Split Image starring Micheal O’Keefe, which came out around the same time and will be reviewed tomorrow.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: October 9, 1981
Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes
Director: Ralph L. Thomas
Studio: United Artists