Missionary (2013)

Directed By: Anthony Di Blasi
Written By: Bruce Wood
  Scott Poiley
Starring: Dawn Olivieri
  Mitch Ryan
  Kip Pardue
  J. La Rose
Missionary

Recently, it seems as though the theme of religion is popping up in more and more horror flicks. Apparently, there’s no end to the amount of stories that can be mined from the relationship between otherwise normal people and God(s).

At this year’s Frightfest, there were several, notable films with a religious angle, from the demonic possession of Daylight, to the dark mass of The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill while, back in 2011, Kevin Smith shocked the world with his take on the concept, Red State, a brutally unflinching look into a terrifying cult of fanatics.

Anthony Di Blasi’s rather brilliant Missionary takes a far less obvious road than its contemporaries, choosing to focus its attention on Mormons and, in particular, one rather disturbed young man (the titular missionary) who uses his religious beliefs to attack, and control, those around him.

It’s a brave idea, one which was inspired by Di Blasi’s discussions on faith with a Mormon friend, who suggested that, though most are fairly low-key, there were certain members of the religion who were ripe for dramatic purpose.

Let’s face it, this could so easily have been a film about the evils of the much-maligned Church Of Scientology but, by focusing on Mormon missionaries, Di Blasi has rooted the premise in reality and, as a result, the events which transpire therein are far more shocking, and disturbing, than they would’ve been if he had chosen a much easier target.

The strength of the film is thanks, in large part, to a star turn from the incredible Mitch Ryan, a relative newcomer who looks like a sort of non-threatening Channing Tatum, and who injects his villain, the terrifyingly calm Pastor Brock, with a cunning cruelty and innate evil that is impossible to resist.

Brock takes pity on single mother Katherine (Dawn Olivieri), who is struggling to make ends meet, with her young son and his absent father. After embarking on an ill-advised sexual relationship with Brock, Katherine realises her error a bit too late and, although she makes several attempts to let him down gently, it soon becomes clear that he won’t be taking no for an answer.

Missionary is a truly remarkable film. Well-paced, well-directed, well-acted, well-written, and oozing with tension and fear, it’s the kind of film that tricks the viewer into a false sense of security by not revealing its true origins until it’s too late.

Much like its seemingly unstoppable villain, the true horror of Missionary is revealed so slowly, it almost makes one’s heart stop with its intensity. The gore is minimal, and there are several, key moments of violence that are interjected so seamlessly into the narrative, they are almost impossible to predict.

Mitch Ryan gives an outstanding central performance, luring the audience in, along with Katherine, so that, once his true intentions become clear, there’s no escape. Though it was originally intended for Pastor Brock to only be pretending to be a missionary, the decision to make him a devout believer instead makes the story terrifyingly realistic. He looks, and acts, like a regular, all-American dude, so when he turns, it’s incredibly frightening.

Di Blasi has made it clear that Missionary is not meant as an attack on the Mormon religion, but instead as a study of how, even the people who seem most trustworthy can turn on us when we least expect it – less of a warning, than a knowing nod to the way in which those who knock at our doors can often be taken at face value when they really shouldn’t be.

As a study of a deranged stalker, the film works very well, but the way in which it is rooted in reality, with the insertion of seemingly innocuous, routine moments, is very clever indeed. Beautifully shot, and with a central character we can really believe in, alongside a disturbing, yet very normal-looking, everyday guy, as the villain, Missionary is the perfect kind of Not Quite Horror film.

It builds everything up so slowly, before hitting us with moment after moment of shocking, weird, disturbing actions that pull the rug out from under us in a spectacular, yet very low key, manner. Some of these moments are so shockingly quiet, almost underplayed, that their horror only becomes clear afterwards.

Definitely one of the standout horror movies of the year, even though it probably wouldn’t even be billed by most people as a genre flick, Missionary is smart, aesthetically gorgeous, tense, thrilling, and very, very scary.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

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