Directed by Blake Reigle
If you’re a slave to cult movies – I don’t mean cult classics, but movies about cults – then you are in for a real treat in One of Us, directed by Blake Reigle, whose first feature, Beneath the Surface, was a film festival faves for years. It’s nice to see him following up with such a polished, eerie, nicely contained film.
When I say “eerie,” I mean that, but in my opinion it isn’t a horror film (as noted on some sites). It’s a psychological thriller, centered on one woman’s determination to get to the ugly truth behind a seemingly benign movement that shucks city ways and strives to get back to nature.
When investigative journalist Melanie Roberts (Allen) takes it upon herself to find her mysteriously missing friend, Haley (Lisseth Chavez), she burrows herself deep undercover at the mountain retreat of the Ascension Family Commune. Under the pretense of joining, Melanie connects with Brent (Smith), the persuasive leader of the all-girl group, and finagles her way in. Melanie, using the name Mary, tries to get in with the women living on the farm, but Brent’s acolytes stay silent about Haley’s disappearance… making Melanie wonder if her friend may actually have been murdered or sacrificed.
Before long Melanie begins suffering from nightmarish visions; her journey down the rabbit hole has just begun. In fact, bunny lovers beware because part of her initiation into the commune is having to butcher the cutest baby rabbit you have ever seen!
The accomplished music and cinematography belie the fact that this is a lower-budget film. It really pops in the visuals and sound. The actors are all good, and they work well together as an ensemble. One of Us was shot on location in the Southern California mountain resort of Idyllwild, which is part of the San Bernardino National Forest. It really lends to the authenticity of the story, which never goes too far off the reservation.
Brent isn’t overly magnetic or insanely handsome, and he doesn’t pontificate with the power of, say, a Jim Jones. The girls in the commune are all very pretty, but they aren’t robots and they are allowed out in society; they take turns working in the little curio shoppe and bakery Ascension owns and operates. So, while this may lessen the “horror” side of things, it’s actually quite different and refreshing to show how subtly insidious these cults can be. (If you are enjoying “The Path” series on Hulu, you’ll like One of Us.)
While it’s a slow burn, One of Us does come to a fiery close, and at a tight 86 minutes it never wears out its welcome. Well worth a look!