Believers (2007)

Believers reviewStarring Johnny Messner, Jon Huertas, Elizabeth Bogush, John Farley, Daniel Benzali

Directed by Daniel Myrick

Bring out the Kool-Aid, folks! It’s time for a trip into the rarest of horror movie territories – the world of the doomsday cult!

Believers marks the return of Blair Witch co-director Dan Myrick, following right on the heels of partner Ed Sanchez’s abused alien-opus, Altered (review). The duo have spent the better part of a decade getting their asses kicked around the Hollywood system, and it’s downright infuriating to see their latest efforts confined to DTV fare. But all is not lost. As with Sanchez, Myrick’s creative talents have managed to shine through endless problems and limitations to deliver a flick that, at the very least, is different than the usual assembly-line studio bullshit.

Believers reviewParamedics David (Messner) and Vic (Huertas) answer an emergency call to find a young girl and her dead mother at a gas station in the outlands. No sooner do they break out the paddles than a truckload of whacko cultists arrive and force everyone back to their secret compound at gunpoint. This is the kind of place that would give Jim Jones nightmares: Strange symbols and numbers adorn the walls, speakers crank out unnatural speech, and experiments are conducted behind closed doors. Under the leadership of “The Teacher” the sect operates under metaphysical babble and mathematical formulas that they claim are the key to their rebirth on the eve of the world’s destruction. Worse yet, they seem to know an awful lot about our two paramedics and inform them that they’re mere hours away from completing their ultimate goal.

And you thought Jesus Camp was scary…

The horror genre has been so wrapped up in the post-Saw school of excess it’s forgotten that there are things far scarier than spilt blood. Ever the minimalist, Myrick avoids the whole gore-porn route in favor of pure psychological torment, and it’s a real breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, his meager production budget is evident right out of the gate; Believers has the cheap, sterile look of a Sci-Fi Channel movie and the “teleplay” credit suggests it may have started as such. Why didn’t somebody give this guy more resources? He only made the highest grossing indie film of all time, for pete’s sake!

Believers reviewComplaints aside, the final product is still creepy and intelligent enough to hold its own. Believers tackles its subject with real gusto, exploring the loss of identity and reality, all to a genuine sense of dread. The script wisely keeps the cult shrouded in mystery, and even then, their brainwashing methods are totally believable (not to mention damn frightening!) playing off the personal beliefs of their two captives. The acting, while uneven at times, is generally on the strong side. Butch actor Messner is competent but brings too much machismo to his “everyman” character while co-star Huertas and the creepy ensemble of cultists are thoroughly engaging. Most importantly, Myrick never takes the easy way out by offering convenient explanations, even when his story hits the inevitable coda.

As with Blair Witch, this is a film that will leave audiences heavily divided (the price you pay for being different). But even with its flaws, Believers is an unsettling little head-trip and proof positive that horror can still exist above the lowest common denominator.

4 out of 5

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Steve Barton

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