REVIEW: The Blessed Ones
– By Sooz Webb
Cults. To even mention the word sends a shiver down the spine, but most people seem to be in one these days. Maybe you’re in one. Maybe I’m in one…and I just haven’t realised it yet. Urgh, I’m freaking myself out! We have a perverse affection for them, and though fascinating and petrifying in equal measure, they’ve found themselves front and centre of collective pop culture conscious over the last few years. Patrick O’Bell throws his tinfoil hat into the ring with a dark and twisty contemplation on the repercussions of indoctrinated beliefs: The Blessed Ones.
Deciding that spiritual rebirth through enforced suicide isn’t the lifestyle choice they were going for, former devotees Spencer and Ursa get the hell out of dodge before liquid fatality can trickle down their throats. Only one thing stands in their way: the arid vastness of surrounding desert. See, the conditioned community has been built up in isolation, and getting anywhere close to sanity-ville is gonna be one hell of a mission. Furious at the prospect of two dissenters refusing to commit to ‘spiritual awakening’, the menacing yet weirdly charming Father Elyon sends out his best meat-head to retrieve and/or dispose of the former fanatics. And this is where things get messy…
The basic premise of The Blessed Ones is awesome. Cults: check! Ominous vibe: check! Occasional bouts of gross out gore: check! Man in a gimp mask: Errm..Okay! It’s just what you want from a tale of delusion and obsession. However. From the moment that Spencer is arrested at the top of the film, and we start to learn about proceedings at camp creepy clique, narratives become muddied and gaping plot holes are left exposed. Like, why WAS Spencer arrested? We never find out. Best guess is so he can recount his tale, but, through a series of flashbacks, we see for ourselves just exactly what happened, so we end up hearing the same information repeated over and over again. This results in long periods where we begin to lose interest, becoming disconnected from the story, only to be drawn in to the next crazy event, and we start the process anew. Whether this is some repetitive psychological technique to lull us into a state of submission, I don’t know. It’s more likely that the filmmakers couldn’t decide on which storytelling device to adopt, so they went for both.
The way in which the footage is captured lends a sense of realism to proceedings. It’s almost documentary-like in style, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d stumbled onto a true crime show on TV. The quality of acting helps with this, with Dave Vesco, Andy Gates and Tamzin Brown all giving strong performances as the leads. Regardless of the scripts clunkiness, each actor brings a devout believability to the source, ensuring that we stay committed to the awkwardly unfolding parable. It’s the closing third which unfolds with machiavellian glee that’s really worth sticking around for. It seems that there was a much grander plan after all, with leaders of sects always working in mysterious ways. We end on a sense of unease which is impossible to shake off for a while, as we know this kind of crazy malarkey goes down in real life. And that is the true horror of this film.
Despite treading murky water in the middle, The Blessed Ones starts and finishes strong, delivering style and psychological content. Terrifying and tedious, it will captivate and make you want to scream with frustration in equal measure. Much like being in a cult would, I guess.