In Sound of My Voice, an eerie indie thriller starring (and co-written by) Brit Marling, a woman who claims to be from the future sets down in Southern California, and starts preaching to a small core of devotees. She has seen the apocalypse, and she is here to teach believers how to survive. Being led blindfolded and shackled to her house, scrubbing down, donning hospital gowns and learning a secret handshake are all part of the process.
There have been a number of cult movies over the years – that is, movies about cults. In last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, Elizabeth Olsen delivered what many felt (me included) was an Oscar-worthy performance as an escapee from a hippie-like commune, traumatized by events she was party to there. And just this February, Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd were party to Wanderlust, a comedy about a couple who stumble on a seemingly idyllic community led by a singing, free-lovin’, bearded dude played by Justin Theroux. Of course, he’s up to no good.
Here’s a chronological list of a half dozen other notable cult pics:
Village of the Damned (1960) – OK, technically not a cult, the gaggle of towheaded, luminous-eyeballed children who inhabit the quaint village of Midwich in Wolf Rilla’s classic scare-flick nonetheless band together in cult-like ways, and compel the people around them – like their parental units – to do things they shouldn’t be doing.
Suspiria (1977) – OK, technically not a cult, the fancy German ballet academy that Jessica Harper wanders into in Dario Argento’s horror classic is nonetheless run by a sinister cabal of single-minded murderesses. Beware those brainwashed ballerinas!
Ticket to Heaven (1981) Super-chilling Canadian drama about a Toronto schoolteacher (Nick Mancuso) who visits a remote California camp where people chant, hold hands and talk about God – and where they’re ringed in by high security fences and locked gates.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) In which Harrison Ford's whip-snapping adventurer must contend with a band of Indian Thuggee – a deadly cult who worship the Hindu goddess Kali, believe in human sacrifice and give Indy and his gang a really hard time.
Holy Smoke! (1999) Kate Winslet stars as an Aussie backpacker who joins an ashram in India and becomes a devout follower of its guru. Winslet’s worried parents dispatch a professional deprogrammer to wrest her away. Harvey Keitel is the man for the job.
The Village (2004) At first glance, M. Night Shyamalan’s enigmatic thriller isn’t about anything more than a protective community of late 19th century Amish/Shaker-types who prefer to keep to themselves. Ha! Forbidden to venture into the surrounding woods, Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard eventually discover that their village elders run the place with the rigorous rules of, well, a cult. They are not to be trusted -- and neither is Shyamal;an and his trick endings.