"All things are a number." --Restroom graffiti
Maybe you remember the 1995 supernatural thriller "Lord of Illusions," where the first half was pretty good and then in the second half it deteriorated into a ridiculous schlocker about a cult leader out in the desert? Well, it's that second half that I thought of as I watched WB's latest entry in their direct-to-video Raw Feed series, 2007's "Believers." I guess that's not saying much for the newer effort.
Daniel Myrick, who co-wrote and co-directed the popular "Blair Witch Project" a few years back helms this new project. I'm not sure what that says about his career.
Johnny Messner (TV's "Killer Instinct") stars as a fellow named David Vaughn. No, not the prominent DVD reviewer and AVS insider, but a fire department paramedic who, with his partner Vic Hernandez (John Huertas), answers the call to rescue a dying woman in the desert. When they arrive on the scene, they find the woman, Rebecca (Deanna Russo), almost dead, and her young daughter, Libby (Saige Ryan Campbell), standing nearby. (It seems all the rage these days for child actresses to go by three names; I don't know why.) Anyhow, they no sooner attempt to revive the dying woman than a truckload of cultists show up and kidnap them. That's why paramedics make the big bucks: kidnappers around every corner. So, who made the emergency call in the first place, and why the kidnapping? As you'll soon find out as the movie goes on, it's best not to ask embarrassing questions because nothing makes any sense in this picture.
The cultists take the two paramedics to their compound in the desert, where the filmmakers introduce us first to a grumpy guy named Io (Erik Passoja), and wouldn't you be grumpy, too, if somebody named you after a moon of Jupiter or, worse, a mythological woman who turned into a cow? I mean, his name isn't even as long as Neo's in "The Matrix." After that, the filmmakers acquaint us with the cult's leader, an even grumpier (and creepier) guy named Dr. Talbot (Daniel Benzali), known simply as The Teacher. Even though Benzali does his best Rod Steiger impression, his characterization comes off as hollow at best. And speaking of "The Matrix," the character of The Teacher is not even up to the silly standards of The Architect.
The cult call themselves the Quanta Group, they believe in multi-universes, they think the world is going to end in a matter of weeks, that they are the chosen ones, that The Teacher will take them away to a new life--a new dimension--beyond this one, and that a mathematical "formula" will release them.
And that's about it. The two heroes talk a lot, attempt to escape from the nut cases, and after 103 minutes of trying, you get to decide if the whole affair merited your attention.
I found so much that was frustrating with this movie, it's hard to know where to begin discussing it. I asked before who made the emergency call for Rebecca. In addition, how do these cultist folk survive out in the desert without anyone knowing what they're up to? Why do they wear white? Why do the heroes continuously antagonize the cultists instead of playing along with them? Why when David finds a convenient (yes, and clichéd) ventilator shaft doesn't he use it to try to escape? Why don't the police mount a full-scale search for the missing men? Why if The Teacher is such a brilliant and prophetic leader does he have only a handful of followers, many of whom are supposedly brilliant minds themselves but who comport themselves like zombies? And why would any cult so foolishly and recklessly kidnap two paramedics, whose boss knows almost exactly where they went? (The explanations the movie provides don't cut it for me.)
As you might expect, the filmmakers worked on a low budget, and it shows. The main setting looks like a real abandoned building in the middle of the Mojave Desert, but it could be anywhere in the outskirts of Los Angeles (maybe the commentary track tells us). The acting skills are minimal, but, then, there isn't much for the actors to do. The characters are in an improbable situation and behave irrationally. Most of the plot revolves around talk, and plenty of it. And the cultists are practically automatons. To his credit, director Myrick uses a few "Blair Witch"-type camera shots, black-and-white shots, purposely grainy shots, and the like to divert our attention from the fact that nothing is actually happening in the story.
The only thing we viewers have going for us as we watch the movie is the hope--the prayer--that maybe something will happen at the end--a twist, a surprise, or a big finale to save it. Then, when the end comes, it's hardly worth the trouble because it seems so contrived.
"Believers" contains no suspense, no tension, no horror, no fright, no excitement, no humor, no drama, no intrigue, no involvement, and no fun.
What it does contain is a moral lesson: The way to eternal life is through sex, electric shock, and staying out of the light. Who'da thunk?
Warner Bros. made the movie directly for disc, so the image size fits a widescreen TV, 1.78:1. The high bit-rate, anamorphic transfer does its best to cope with what appears to be a mediocre picture. Blacks levels are deep and colors in broad daylight are fairly natural. However, definition is fuzzy, sometimes blurred, often with indistinct facial features; dark shadows and murky backgrounds combine with intensely bright whites to drown out further detail; one notices film grain in most expanses of sky as well as dark, indoor shots; and an intentional draining of hues in the compound scenes doesn't help the situation at all.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio fares a little better than the video. Most of it seems to be center-channel oriented, but when it does spread out to the other front speakers, it's OK. You'll notice a few good surround effects as the movie goes on, especially those inside the cult facility and a few environmental sounds in the desert. While there is not much bass until the last few minutes, there are some well-extended highs and a good, clean midrange.
The best item among the bonuses is the audio commentary by director Daniel Myrick and writer Julia Fair. Their laid-back, easygoing explanations of things are more entertaining than anything in the picture. In addition, you'll find about eighteen minutes of augmented scenes, broken into segments that one can view separately or all together; these include an extended "Lina Vance Show" interview, an introduction to the facility, a hidden-camera video of monologues by The Teacher, a hidden-glasses camera video of Io explaining the Formula, and a forensic video of the crime scene aftermath.
Then, we have twenty scene selections but no chapter insert; trailers at start-up for various other Warner Bros. and New Line titles; a trailer for "Believers"; English as the only spoken language; and English, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean subtitles.
As the third entry in the Raw Feed series, "Believers" is not as idiotic as "Rest Stop" and not as pretentious as "Sublime"; it's just dull and dreary. If you're a fan of Rod Serling's old "Twilight Zone," you might want to stick to that; you'll find little of interest here.