I walked into this screening having been listening, coincidentally, to a podcast about Dominionism, the US (so far) phenomenon where extreme and right wing Christians try take over government so it was a bit of a relief to watch a film where government and religious nutters were at loggerheads.
The film starts with three schoolkids arranging via the internet to meet an older woman (Melissa Leo) for sex. Although a little sleazy, the kids are quite likeable so it’s a bit unsettling when the woman turns out to be a cut-price “honey trap”, devised quite deliberately to catch kids like them on behalf of an end-days Christian cult.
Although the situation that develops is similar to Waco, the church itself is more like a gunned-up version of Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptists, who are name-checked as a point of reference. The leader of this cult, Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) is a tremendous figure, funny, charismatic, and utterly demented. Like Phelps, he is a patriarch to whom his family are completely subservient. Smith confidently gives him an uninterrupted ten minutes (approximately) to preach, and this looks authentic. We are assumed as an audience to know what he’s saying is wrong-headed without this being spelled out for us or directly contradicted by anyone else in the film, a refreshing change to be treated as an adult.
It’s initially set up as a horror-style torture movie but a chance encounter the kids have with a local suddenly veers everything to a new storyline, and John Goodman’s ATF Officer, Joe Keenan, arrives at the church to start the siege.
It would have been easy to make a film where the cult members were simply 2D monsters but Smith has bigger fish to fry and does something much more interesting. I can’t say much more without spoilers but this was a funny and exciting movie with a couple of serious messages embedded in it and terrific performances from Goodman and, especially, Parks with good support all round. A very credible film.