Cult is - surprise! - about a cult. At least a cult as understood through an X-Files episode from twenty years ago. There's this Deliverance type figure leading a bunch of losers out on his farm and there's a pretty blond detective with an elderly black partner chasing him. He's one of those obnoxiously hyper-competent villains that's behind everything but you can never really pin it on him, like how you know he totally murdered this guy but the episode ends...
...Right when it's starting because Cult is about a TV show called Cult! And it's so popular that the fans are turning into a cult that mirrors the one on Cult. Oooh, how meta!
|I see what you did there!|
As a concept it's not bad - and I personally liked how it portrayed obsessive fans as unhinged. The protagonists are clearly disturbed at finding the fans playing dress up based on their characters. Yeah, it's "cosplay," which to me has always sounded like some deranged fetish concerning Bill Cosby. And with how much the show implies the show within a show - or show within within a show - producer is the real evil mastermind, I couldn't help reading a dig at Joss Whedon. If any TV maven is really the head of an evil cult it's that asshole.
But you can have the best concept in the world and it don't matter if you then proceed to whiz it down your leg for forty-some minutes. Cult does that through predictable, melodramatic writing with characters you really don't care about. The Hero - I don't remember his name and I'll be damned if I look it up - is some knob who used to work for the Washington Post and was driven out for some character-building blather that was just as forgettable as his name. After the cult eats his brother - a fan of Cult who was apparently having a brief moment of sanity - Hero is paired with some production assistant from the show who is also very intrigued and disturbed by all the Joss Whedon fans playing dress up. We'll call her Chick since, in the grand WB casting tradition CW inherited, that is her only defining quality.
So Hero and Chick run around trying to figure out where Hero's brother went and who left all that blood in his barkolounger. And all the clues come from or elate back to the show and Reverend Squeal-Like-A-Pig sounds like he's speaking to them through the TV and it steals The Following's thing of having new cultists spring out of every closet and it's all handled so fucking badly that I thought the premier was taking two hours.
|"The fuck is this shit!?"|
I think the biggest problem - bigger even than the predictable writing and boring characters - is TV just ain't scary anymore. It's been done, even if not this specifically. All the proper horror these days has that found footage thing going... Or it's on the internet.
Which is how I'm going to segue into some much better horror storytelling - Slender Man. An intentionally constructed urban legend from the Something Awful forums, he's about seven feet tall with a business suit and no face. He abducts children with either long ropey arms or seventy tentacles, depending on who you ask. A New Media bogeyman who's image touches something very primal and visceral in the fear center of the brain.
|"All the better to hug you with! Forever!"|
And he's hit the meme jackpot recently. Blogs, video games, even an indie feature film that isn't that great but still gets an A for effort. It's all pretty b-grade storytelling so far but very little about the character is defined - which also leaves much to work with. Like maybe someone had a traumatic experience as a child they've mostly suppressed but have always suspected was very weird. Then they start having dreams of a tall, faceless stranger... Then they start reading the same description online... And maybe that's what it really is or it's all in their head and they're stuck in a dead-end job with no girlfriend and slowly disconnecting from reality but it's like they say - just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you...
Damn, I think I've found a new project.