Cult Killer

Cult Killer
Cult Killer
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A detective and his apprentice try to outsmart a killer who is murdering rich people in cults. Cult Killer is brutal in its storytelling of crimes. A defiled survivor seeks bloody revenge on truly repugnant villains who will make your skin crawl with hate. The movie doesn’t have much gore or nudity, but it does show sexual abuse using disturbing images. Its well-developed characters are explored through flashbacks that drive a plot full of twists. Cult Killer is thrillingly gripping and even stunningly disgusting despite one big problem: the weak investigation parts don’t have much backbone.

Mikhail Tellini (Antonio Banderas) walks into an Irish bar on a mission in Dublin, Ireland. He’s been paid to tail a cheater, but someone else catches his eye. Cassie Holt (Alice Eve), beautiful and drunk, pounds shots with sketchy-looking men. They leer at her while she takes their drinks and shoots them down as they hit on her, warning they’ll get nothing from her. They follow her out of the bar — it annoys Mikhail; he’s a good man and won’t let them prey on her — but louts find out the hard way that Cassie can handle herself.

After helping with the beat-down, Mikhail chides Cassie for being so drunk; he knows she uses booze to numb pain too well. What kind of life is she living? Five years later, Mikhail meets Irish police inspector Rory McMahon (Paul Reid), an old Interpol colleague, about a baffling murder case they need Cassie to help solve. As his diligent research assistant — he gave her sobriety and friendship along with purpose — he trained her how to shoot guns and defend herself physically through martial arts because they’re dangerous together; but also because their business requires it: “Be ready for any situation,” he tells her prophetically as she battles a vicious executioner (Shelley Hennig) who shares a traumatic past.

Cult Killer hits hard in Act 1. Nothing is as it appears, and Cassie finds herself piecing together what’s really going on in the case while memories she worked so hard to bury bubble up like lava as the body count grows. Her years of childhood molestation drove her to addiction — and resilience. She physically learned how to fight back from being strong enough to take on an incestuous monster. Director Jon Keeyes (Prolific: “American Nightmare,” “Rogue Hostage”) shows us her abuse as a scared little girl in bed, a door ominously opening, a drunk man walking in; this scene replays in her mind as she uncovers the supposed antagonist’s motive.

Alice Eve will kick your ass … and break your foot doing it. She gives a nuanced performance as a woman who never wants to be anyone’s victim; that warning still holds true for everyone with ill-intent who comes across Cassie. She’s harder than leather chewed for months but haunted by what happened to her — Mikhail and Rory are floored by Cassie’s toughness but see through it too; they know she’ll never fail under fire but must realize she is still very much at war within herself; Eve does fantastic work here, turning what could’ve been just another boilerplate tough-dame protagonist into something far more compelling.

Shelley Hennig comes close to stealing the show as a nemesis with a complicated relationship to Cassie. No spoilers, but what happens to her character is unspeakable. She’s out for blood. And she won’t let anyone stop her with their merciless agenda. But when you go on a blind revenge rampage, you’re bound to mess up your kills. Her inability to tell friend from foe drops an initial line in the sand that blurs for Cassie over time. She wants these despicable baddies rotting behind bars, not dead and buried; this sets the stage for an inevitable showdown between two women who have suffered similar traumas but have radically different ideas about what justice looks like.

The movie glosses over key points that could have grounded the plot. We see Mikhail teaching Cassie how to investigate — which includes using actual investigation skills — but they’re never employed realistically. Cult Killer operates in a world without fingerprints or security cameras or digital tracking or any other kind of criminal forensics, so as soon as it introduces one of these elements it should be game over for our killer (today every cellphone can be traced instantly). It defies logic that someone on a citywide murder spree would taunt law enforcement yet never get photographed or traced back themselves; we’ve reached peak “I can’t suspend my disbelief anymore” here. The actual mystery is also only given cursory attention by Keeyes and screenwriter Charles Burnley (The Mechanical Grave, Doom Room) — this after they put forth such effort into dealing with ugly themes.

Cult Killer is definitely satisfying in terms of seeing women fight back against oppressors, but there’s also a female villain who’s just… beyond sadistic? I’ve seen Olwen Fouéré play some terrifying characters before, but man. She takes evil to stratospheric heights here in a scene that will haunt your nightmares forever. Even if you’re the most hardcore genre fan, this should make your jaw drop. Cult Killer is not fucking around.

Produced by Yale Entertainment, Buffalo 8 Productions, and Hail Mary Pictures, Cult Killer is in limited theatrical release now from Saban Films and Sony Pictures.

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