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Rae Dawn Chong
David is a young man seduced by a religious cult that uses starvation, exhaustion, and brainwashing to mold recruits into money hustling disciples of a messiah-like leader. Chronicles David's chilling transformation into a gaunt, mindless shadow of his former self...and his ultimate salvation when friends and family launch a plan to kidnap and deprogram him. Written by
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
[after several days of sleep deprivation, intense activity, and brainwashing]
I can't take it anymore! I got- ah- I gotta get outta here- I can't-
I *told* you it would be an incredible experience!
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This film should be required viewing for anyone who believes in Free Will, or that Individual Liberties are all that matters.
The most profound lesson for me is the clear message that NO-ONE, no matter how cynical and initially unsympathetic, would be able to resist the methods this group employs to suck in new inductees - provided only that they are unaware in advance of what is going on. The process is brilliant, diabolical and irresistible. The sleep deprivation, constant presence of others, constant barrage of reinforcing messages, powerful peer pressure and not a moment available to think - I don't believe anyone could resist. They simply wouldn't have the time to realise that they *want* to resist.
Of all these influences I find the character of Ruthie perhaps the most frightening and effective: cute as a button, shining with enthusiasm and energy, playful, flirtatious, controlling, prettily wheedling - and totally dedicated to bringing in new freshly-emptied heads for 'Father'. I fear for my gender, because for a certain age group of men, a smiling, cajoling Ruthie can get almost anything. Various fundamentalist groups have employed such 'flirty fishing' techniques with terrible effect.
This film blends its didactic message into a tense storyline with huge skill. It's helped, perhaps, by the fact that we want to see and understand the raw documentary details as much as we want the story to play out. I still think it's well done: we see the induction process operating successfully on a typical unarmed and unresisting victim in the form of David; and on a more resistant but still unarmed Larry. Only Larry's well-prepared rescuer (Eric?) is equipped to break free of the web.
The film benefited enormously from having a set of fine actors who have gone on to great things in the industry. I'll leave it to others better versed to explore the individual performances, but to me all the parts are handled skilfully and thoughtfully by competent actors. I was particularly affected by the frequent use of what I like to call 'face acting': flashes of CU and ECU in which an actor can reveal internal thoughts and struggles without clunky words. A tiny grin on the face of Linc Strunc when he sees a point hit home in David; the final darted glance by the rescued David at the Heavenly Children standing at their car - not fear, not triumph, but not conviction either. And Meg Foster, of course, whose mutant eyes make actual acting unnecessary.
Interestingly odd note: the scene in which an exhausted David falls asleep at the wheel of the van taking his companions home, and swerves off the highway into a ditch. In his mixed terror and relief at surviving the accident, the other members gather round, laughing and hugging him, without a hint of blame for having nearly killed them all. This was genuine and touching, but the open and loving camaraderie is also one of the chains that bind David to the group. Clever, I thought.
Perhaps the most significant question of the film - unstated and perhaps unintentional - is this: the Heavenly Children are a cult, and defined as such, so we may ignore their teachings and beliefs as mere fantasies with no basis. But what distinguishes a cult from other faith-based belief systems whose primary symbols are a deity, a messiah, and a Satan? Their wider acceptance? Whatever one's opinion about religion in all its forms, it certainly creates the mind-set and iconography in which cults have flourished throughout the centuries - sometimes going on to become the standard in their part of the world.
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