Review: ‘Cult Killer’

Alice Eve Has to Team Up With A Serial Killer To Right A Wrong

A second chance at life has been granted to Cassie (Alice Eve), a recovering alcoholic. She has spent her whole adult life staring down a bottle while battling the demons of years of sexual abuse, having endured a tremendous deal of trauma as a youngster. She meets Mikhail (Antonio Banderas) one evening, who stands up for her against a group of “alpha males” who want to take advantage of her because she stole their drinks. To help her get clean, he therefore takes her under his wing as a sponsor and trains her in his area of expertise: private investigations. She is perceptive and picks up his techniques fast, but Mikhail is killed while looking into a fresh case.

In the following one-and-a-half hours of Cult Killer, we follow Cassie as she looks into the death of her mentor and the dark path she must follow to discover what he was looking into, why he was killed, and how she can help clear his name from the mess he was looking into. And what he was looking at was DARK, as in, the darkest SVU episode ever! As she tracks out Mikhail’s killer, she must also look into what exactly he was looking into when he was slain, as well as clear his name of any unethical information she comes across.

Following the standard investigative procedures, Cult Killer initially appears to be a mystery. However, once Cassie encounters Jamie (Shelley Hennig), Mikhail’s killer, Cult Killer’s story swiftly turns into a thriller. Rather than murdering one another, they begin to form a shaky alliance to carry out the inquiry into “why” Jamie is picking on the wealthy in their neighborhood. Their relationship is fascinating since it begins with Cassie seeking revenge on Jamie, but it turns to a partnership/sisterhood as Cassie realizes Jamie is just as damaged by sexual abuse as she is. Though there are brief flashbacks that allude to Cassie’s abuse, Cult Killer does not depict the heinous actions, and fortunately, we are spared the details of what these wealthy douchebags got up to after we discover what they were up to. If they had, the film would have been difficult to watch.

As stated, Mikhail dies relatively early in Cult Killer, you don’t put someone with great range like Antonio Banderas in a movie for a fifteen-minute cameo. As we see Cassie in her final form when it comes to investigating and fighting, flashbacks sprinkled throughout the film give Banderas some time to shine as a gentle father figure. One interesting aspect of the flashbacks is that each flashback informs the scene that is happening in real-time, whether it’s Mikhail teaching Cassie to knife fight, or how to case a room for clues.

As Cult Killer rushes to the finish line in the third act, we are treated to more exposition dumps than a different storytelling device. The golden rule is always “show, don’t tell,” and telling towards the climax of the film took some of the steam out of it. Of course, the end is mostly satisfying (it does get a little melodramatic in the last five minutes), but the film starts to dip into the formulaic in the last few minutes for the dramatic finale, even bordering on the incredulous. Also, the film is mistitled. The bad guys really aren’t a “cult,” more just a group of sadistic sociopaths.

That said, Cult Killer is a fun time. Having some restraint in not displaying the film’s disturbing sexual content is a good choice as well as it spares us of some craziness. It has a good amount of grit, and Banderas is great as always. The film lives and dies with the performances of Shelley Hennig and Alice Eve and their dynamic. Going from a cat-and-mouse chase dynamic to a sisterhood of trauma works for the most part as both actresses deliver fine performances. Overall, Cult Killer is a fun time as it tries to tackle a serious issue as well as deliver a few good action scenes.

Cult Killer is currently available in theaters.