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Interesting ideas in an exceptionally poorly executed film
Acolytes presents an interesting mix of original concepts in "screaming teen" cliché horror with a more thriller-like pacing. In some ways Acolytes is very successful, but in many other ways the film fails miserably.
Overall Acolytes avoided the typical archetypes of the naivety and innocence of youth of endless horror films in the like of Cabin Fever, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and countless other films where unsuspecting and relatively naive and innocent teenagers, have sex, run around screaming and one-by-one are plucked off by some sort of monster. Instead this innocence is replaced with pride, retaliation, and arrogance. The characters had several opportunities to save themselves from immanent death and despair, but failed to do so due to their own personal demons. In the end you were left with the feeling that there were no (and perhaps are no) innocent victims.
As the name implies, the film also touches greatly on following a leader or authority. This was used in a direct sense of if the main character would become like the serial killer and was also used less directly throughout the film. Following a central figure is a reoccurring theme throughout the film.
Through all this, the film makers also incorporated a lot of cliché, which I suspect was intentional and gave the film a unique mixture of depth as well as shallowness which I found intriguing. This, perhaps inadvertently, plays well with the characters who are, at first appearance very shallow but as the story unfolds it becomes obvious that they are, at least the two main male characters, quite complex.
Technically the film has a lot of problems however. The cinematography, which is typically regarded highly, I find rather sophomoric and over-stylized, utilizing formulaic 2/3 approaches far too rigidly. Many transitions I felt were also over-stylized. The use of symbolism was not only vague, but also greatly over used.
The plot was poorly planned and relied exclusively on misinformation in order to achieve a rather hokey twist ending, which was poorly resolved and leaves viewers confused. Methods used to resolve the climax are cheap and ill-prepared, motivations are routinely unclear, and major plot points remain untied in the end.
Overall, the film's relative originality, themes and thesis are lost in a maze of poor technical execution, over-stylized imagery, unclear motives, obtuse and unnecessary symbolism and cheap twists maintained only by a lack of or entirely incorrect information.
If the film were better executed, it would have been excellent. However, Acolytes receives only two stars in my opinion.
Above average, but falls short
This film is certainly worth watching, though falls short in content. On the DVD the director provides some context for the film, and this I do not have any problem with (though, I am unsure it was necessary) and ends with his wishes that the film causes evokes "thought".
While the story was compelling, the only question I found myself asking was "boy, wouldn't it be strange if...". The answer is certainly "yes it would". But beyond that, I do not see any other intent or statement from the film maker other than to make a strange setting for the main character - an overplayed gimmick.
Tideland was, although not particularly thought provoking, very well executed, entertaining and at times modestly shocking. The two main characters were very well developed and the special effects were delightful and very much assisted the story.
While the execution was very well done, I do not feel any ideas were really challenged and the result is merely nothing more than yet another "weird movie".