Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius co-star as the would-be filmmakers and the mesmerizing Brit Marling is Maggie, the mysterious cult leader. Marling co-wrote the script. Marling was also co-writer of the film, Another Earth (which she starred in). This film is a much better, tighter effort than the previous one. Maybe that is due to Zal Batmanglij or maybe Marling and her partners have just honed their skills.
This film focuses in on the basics. There is very little set-up. We do not know how the couple first became aware of the cult. We don’t know how the original cult began even. There are a number of details that the viewer has to figure out themselves. While some conclusions are not really open to interpretation there are others that are—and these are the more human aspects of the story. What does it mean?
We find out who these humans are in small snippets of their lives—as they describe them to others. We believe what they do and the conflicts. While it is focused there is no attempt to tie it all up and show what happens to everyone. There is no place for that in this film. It is a very “indie” production. It isn’t trying to spell it all out.
But that is part of how cults work? They work like con artists; they convince people silly things are true. But what if they were true?
Denham’s character is vaguely annoying. It isn’t that the actor is annoying; the character, Peter, is. Denham plays it well with small ticks and increasing neurosis. You probably find out more about Peter than any other character in the film. You don’t hate him but you seriously wouldn’t want to have a beer with the guy.
Vicius’ Lorna is a less sexy (using the term figuratively) role but Vicius certainly does everything she has to in bringing her character to life. In a subtle movie with three main characters hers is the character that is least defined. Lorna’s demons are not paraded publicly but are shown as an aside, a flashback. She has less to work with script-wise but makes the role come to life.
If you are fans of smaller films, of indie films, this is one that will appeal to you. If you need explosions it will not. If you need a bad guy who “gets theirs” at the end? Likewise you should look elsewhere. More than anything else the film may be the one people look back on when Marling writes and or stars in a film that reaches a large audience. You will hear from her again.