Published Sep 10, 2009Don Mckellar's frequent film editor turned director, Reginald Harkema, follows up his stoner activist excursion, Monkey Warfare, with this not so subtle examination of American morality during the Vietnam War.
Drawing parallels between white-collar American families and the violent anomalies of counterculture cults, Harkema drops a draft dodging, good Christian lad onto the jury of the trial of three young women from a "hippie death cult" up on murder charges.
Perry is a young science student who takes on a chemical engineering job to avoid being sent to Vietnam. He's betrothed to a lovely and innocent young lady of faith, a matrimonial path interrupted by his selection to jury duty. Something inside him just can't be convinced that the lovely Leslie is guilty of death for the horrific murders she participated in.
Weaving between the trial and the respective prior family lives of Perry and Leslie, Harkema tries to find the common culpability between those tied directly and indirectly to these acts of evil. Leslie is a maternally repressed young woman who vaguely wants something else out of life, a quality greedily exploited by the dementedly charismatic Charlie, who preaches perversions of anarchistic ideals while fashioning himself after Christ. We're lead through Leslie's transformation from lost girl to brainwashed killer, with an oddly detached performance from Kristen Hager.
None of the cast can match Don McKellar's subtle acting chops as the prosecuting attorney and some of Ryan Robbins' over-the-top antics as Charlie approach campy distraction. No iconic last names are given but it grows obvious quite swiftly that cult leader Charlie's last name starts with an M.
Maybe it's Harkema's way of trying to keep the story's focus on the situation and the people and not the horrible legend, especially when his objective is to contrast the potency of evils people foster ignorantly with those committed wilfully. (E1)