The Blessed Ones
Writer/Director: Patrick O’Bell
Starring: Andy Gates, Dave Vescio, Tazmin Brown, Alex Essoe
Reviewed by Sean Leonard
The Blessed Ones is the latest film from writer/director Patrick O’Bell, who also happens to be the co-owner of Lost Order Films, the production company that opened their doors with this release. Borrowing heavily on the premise of Jonestown, this film centers around the Polaris Society, a doomsday cult led by a very Jim Jones/Marshall Applewhite type of guy, Elyon (veteran B-movie actor Dave Vescio). Having literally just drank the Kool-Aid, most of the cult members are already dead – or now exist on Polaris, aka the North Star, if their beliefs came to fruition. For whatever reason, Spencer (Andy Gates), a down-on-his-luck kind of guy who ended up joining Polaris in hopes of finding something better, decided to not go through with it, and we learn most of the story from him as he is interrogated by the police. But how reliable could this narrator really be?
As the story unfolds in a somewhat Usual Suspects-like style, we meet some other characters involved with the cult. Draco (veteran TV actor Jonathan Erickson Eisley) is the tough guy, Elyon’s security and enforcer. Iris (Alex Essoe, who wowed us as Sarah in Starry Eyes) is a nurse who may be dipping into her medication a bit too heavily. Tamzin Brown plays Ursa, a cult member with ulterior motives for being there who tries to help Spencer along the way. And then there’s John Miranti (Michael O’Hare Wallace), a (in)famous cult-deprogrammer with a reputation as successful as it is shady, who has been hired to find a girl who may have joined the Polaris Society. As we learn more about each of these people from Spencer and Detective Stafford (played by director O’Bell), we start getting a clearer picture of what exactly is going on. The jury is still out as to whether that is a good thing or not.
There are some interesting possibilities in The Blessed Ones, some decent ideas floating about here and there, but as a whole it just doesn’t seem to work very well. And it’s not just one thing that sinks this ship, it’s a little bit of everything. There is some really shaky acting involved here, with characters stumbling over their lines or delivering them stiffly. A little of this might make sense in a low budget film, but then we remember that these are, for the most part, experienced actors, some of whom have proven themselves to be fantastic on screen. Taking this into consideration, perhaps blame falls not on the actors, then, but on the filmmaker – maybe production was rushed, or maybe the director was not able to convey what he wanted from his cast?
Worse than the acting is the CGI blood on display. This is not an overly gory movie; there’s barely any blood even in here, so when there is, it stands out. And it looks bad, almost cartoonish. This is further proof that maybe this film was rushed and ended up getting a little sloppy. Another is how some of the pieces just don’t seem to fit together. The timeline of The Blessed Ones is all over the place, and that’s completely acceptable, but sometimes the transitions are jarring, to say the least. For example, when we meet John Miranti, the film cuts to a public access-looking documentary clip that info-dumps his entire backstory on us, a scene that feels very much out of place. Then there’s the scene when Spencer runs into a masked man in the desert while trying to escape – a masked man who turns out to be no one, who has nothing to do with the plot, and whose incidental appearance does absolutely nothing to advance the story; he’s just there.
But most damning of all, The Blessed Ones leaves the audience asking itself an uncomfortable question: Why was this story told? We know right up front that the plot revolves around a cult, so there’s no mystery there. Spencer is alive and telling the story, so we know he escaped/left, which eliminates any suspense there. Things are set up as if there will be a big reveal of some kind, but the groundwork is not laid out up front, and when we learn Spencer is “Keyser Soze” there is no shock or gratifying explanation. So, there was a cult, then they all killed themselves, but a random guy left and is still alive to tell the story. Without anything extra to it, this is derivative at best, a story we’ve heard before. The insignificant “twist” (if you can call it that) at the end does nothing to tie the story up or “wow” the audience, so we’re still left with a fairly basic story without any bells or whistles to leave any kind of impression on us.
I hate to crap on a movie, especially a low-budget one made by a relatively inexperienced director, but I’m finding it hard to come up with a silver lining here. Hopefully O’Bell’s future releases will be able to find their stride in the way that this one never could. It’s unfortunate, but despite the potential inherent within the subject of doomsday cults, The Blessed Ones seems to stumble right from the start and in the end is simply unmemorable.