Spring 2013 Review: Cult

24 Apr

Cult members

Warning:  I am going to use the word Cult in this review more than I ever have before, and hopefully more than I ever will again.  Let’s go.  Cult.

Everyone knows TV shows, like movies, come in twos, and Cult shares a lot of territory with Fox show The Following.  While The Following is created by Kevin Williamson, Cult shares some of the meta aspects that were the hallmarks of Williamson’s first big hit Scream.  The Cult’s meta-ness lies in that it’s a show about a cult based on a scripted tv show about a cult called Cult.  I thought originally Cult was going to have some of the cheeky meta sense of humor that Scream has, but it really doesn’t. For a show that’s so meta, there’s really almost no sense of winking irony at all.

The Following is about a crazy serial killer/cult leader who organizes a shadowy US-wide network of disciples posing as ordinary people in every walk of life who would do anything no matter how gruesome or despicable at a whim for their leader.  Cult is about a cult which features a wide network of disciples posing as ordinary people in every walk of life who would do anything no matter how gruesome or despicable at a whim for their leader.  In Cult, however, the added hook is, as previously mentioned, there’s a popular cult (yes, I know) television show named Cult, about a cult, and which many fans are completely obsessed with, looking for hidden clues and messages throughout repeated viewings of each episode of the show.  The real life cult is super secret and is based on and through the show, somehow involving its creators, presumably, and by way of these messages being submitted through the show.

The added level here that The Following lacks is that of a conspiracy drama (which is shares more with fellow cancelled show Zero Hour).  While the cult in the Following is out in the open, this one is deep underground; no one believes in it, and anyone who claims they do appears crazy, even as bodies apparently turn up regularly and people are abducted.  Our main character is a sensible ex-prominent journalist (apparently he Jayson Blair-ed it, but for noble reasons) whose off-the-rails brother goes missing after trying to convince the main character of his crazy conspiracy theory involving a cult around Cult.  The key conversation comes at a diner where sinister music and camera shots make it appear everyone around them is an shady cult member, watching and listening (a la Homer on The Simpsons, “But listen to the music! He’s evil!”) The main character, with the help of a production assistant (or something, I don’t know what her job is on the show but it’s apparently not that important because she can leave for long stretches of time) on the show investigate the brother’s disappearance and find a disturbing amount of clues leading to the show Cult, and when he finally runs into the person his brother told him to ever contact if he got into trouble, she, dressed as a Cult character, kills herself, saying the magic words from Cult that people says on the show when they kill themselves.

He eventually finds a disc which, when he puts it in his computer, will put him on Cult’s radar, letting them steal his information and become a target, but may also be the only way to ever see his brother again, so he takes the leap.  The detective who searches both his brother’s apartment and shows up after the woman commits suicide is ridiculously accusing of him and just a general mean person, but this may be all explained by the fact that we see a Cult tattoo on her at the end of the episode.  She’s in on it!

Basically, if you’re watching this show, it’s for the conspiracy.  The writing isn’t anything to, er, write home about, and as mentioned before, there’s a surprising lack of humor or irony considering how meta the concept is.  The film-work isn’t particularly expert and I doubt it’s going to be a ton of sense if you think too hard about it.  It’s a pure thrill ride, and it’s not exactly thrilling enough to reach the levels it needs to, but it could be a lot worse too.  I’m at least mildly intrigued, though not a whole lot more.  It’s the kind of absurd idea a couple of people on controlled substances could arrive at late at night (“what about this! a cult based on a cult show about cults!”) that doesn’t sound as good in the morning but doesn’t sound half bad either.

Will I watch it again?  No.  It’s not really that bad, all the issues listed before considered.  It’s already cancelled for one, so the story is probably not going to resolve.  The premise is not wholly uninspired.  It wasn’t incredibly gripping, but if someone told me I had to watch all of Cult, I wouldn’t hate them for it.  Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have watched another one, but I might have at least thought about it for more than a second if the show wasn’t cancelled.  The possibility of a good edge-of-your-seat plot, while rarely realized, can make up for a lot of sins.

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