I Saw a Film!
Like a wonderful old After School Special warning us of the perils of drug addiction or driving too fast, comes this amazing film starring cute Karen Allen and Michael O’Keefe alongside stalwarts like Brian Dennehy, James Woods and freaking Peter Fonda! What we have here is a cult! And none-to-soon on the tail of terrifying Jim Jones cults (fresh on our brains would be Manson’s “family” as well). I myself think we’re all in cults. Cults of nationalism, religion and economics rule our lives, they become issues when they start stockpiling Serin nerve gas or start molesting children. A recent book by Lauren Hough documents her upbringing in a flat out sex-religion cult. Much of her life was spent changing the diapers of the myriad babies produced in all those couplings.
On to our story. I would like to point out, before I forget, that this film was wonderfully spoofed by Strangers With Candy about twenty years ago. Alan Tudyk guest starred in the Peter Fonda, cult leader role. It was excellent. Karen Allen is the cute girl (with eyes verging on muppety) who lures our young fellow into the folds of a more agrarian style “family” lead by Fonda. The only trouble arises when members want to leave. Fonda takes it very personally and creates weird embraces. You get the idea, TV versions of cults rarely get the menace right because it’s mainly internal and taking advantage of insecurity and low self-esteem. There is a moment of “masturbation” in the commune and he’s told not to be a prostitute. Which is rather funny. Nothing is less imposing than pleasuring oneself rather than employing someone to help with it. In another oddball sequence our protagonist has to relieve himself in the head and the girls he’s working with go with him and watch! Presumably to ensure he’s doing what he says he’s doing.
Most of the film however, is about Dennehy and Woods attempting to “rescue” and deprogram the kid. Woods is in top wacko form, possibly just as driven and certainly more scary than the Fonda character. The fun comes from the decision to use camera effects to represent the mind warp of our young cultist. When Woods is right up in our faces, fun-house mirror effects play on the gruesomeness of detail. Like any young person, there is some irrational blurting of hatred for the parents (shocking!) and some fun, but brief parental pain. Finally, what works is Woods improbably slapping Dennehy around, creating in O’Keefe the needed loyalty he feels deep within, rising to the surface. Success!
But the nightmare is not quite over (isn’t the Fonda cult right there?), and we never have get Karen Allen over her fixation. What the heck? Our young lovers get to run off hand in hand and never look back. Or do they? The film actually is a bit confusing, or complicated in its messages. The cult isn’t an obvious evil. Woods, while helping bring kids back, comes across as possessed himself! So we’re actually trying to get at questions of love and devotion and peace. It is easy to see that our normal daily lives are most often interrupted by our need to pursue goals like demons without much time for relaxation, but is the answer a retreat into a cult, or a review of the time we could be more wisely spending?
This bit of sticky fluff is running free on prime (usa) and definitely hits some marks for amusing self-involvement and arid demonstrations of emotional connection.