It's easy to write about good movies. The reviews practically write themselves, as the praises flow onto the page as the film's intricacies start to unwind. Conversely, bad films are also easy to write about, as the film slowly shreds beneath a critical eye, the condemnation surging forth with wicked satisfaction. Competent, boring films, however, are a bitch to review. What do you say about something that lacks interest, and, further, how do you sound interesting while doing it? I'm really not too sure, but thanks to Daniel Myrick's new film, Believers, which was released to DVD on October 16th, I have to try and find out.
Two paramedics, Dave and Vic, get an emergency call that takes them to an old gas station out near the county line. They find a young girl crouched over her mother, who is in cardiac arrest. After the paramedics take the time to note her strange tattoos, they finally start trying to save her life. Way to prioritize guys. Unfortunately, their paramedic mojo is interrupted by a group of people riding in a pick-up truck, carrying guns, and all wearing the same white tunic. They're dressed funny so, obviously, they must be cultists. Everyone knows cultists dress funny. Sure enough, they pack up the mother and child, along with the two paramedics, and cart them off to the cult’s compound. The rest of the movie is spent listening to this number-obsessed cult drivel on about The Formula, the end of the world, and their suicide-induced ascension while Vic succumbs to their persuasions and Dave tries to escape.
The film's greatest enemy is its script, written by Daniel Myrick, Julia Fair, and Daniel Noah. Oh, sure, the idea of a god found in empirical science in mathematics sounds interesting and unique, but it's one of those things that sounds so original that it's been done several times over by others seeking originality. (I'm a Pi fan, myself.) However, Believers doesn't really bring anything new to the table. There's the suicide cult, but, aside from their obsession with numbers and the Greek letter Psi (which I can only assume is a reference to Schroedinger's Equation), they don't have an innovative bone in their self-destructive bodies. They brainwash their members, they're violent despite protesting to be peaceful, and they talk in a scary New Age monotone until you make them angry. These people are supposed to be the main source of fear and suspense in Believers, but, with modern history boasting such tragedies as the Jonestown and Heaven's Gate suicides, the cultists in Believers seem particularly benign.
Lacking a solid antagonist, the best Believers could hope for is enough surprises and suspense to distract the viewers from this incredible deficiency. Unfortunately, the actual flow of the plot is non-existent and includes a lot of sitting in The Reflection Room (a line of caged-in bathroom stalls), the cultists talking about their fated trip, or the cultists trying to convince Dave and Vic they ought to come to the new world with them. Even the strange incongruities, which are meant to be mysterious and unnerving, fail to be actually interesting. For example, the woman at the gas station, who died on the way back to the compound, has been brought to life and is fully brainwashed, yet again. Other than her annoying monotone, however, I can't really see why I should care. The characters all talk about how incredible this is, but the resurrected woman doesn't do anything other than spout the same cult rhetoric as everyone else. The same goes for the seemingly omniscient cult leader. Sure, he knows things he shouldn't, but rather than introducing his strange powers slyly, it’s just put right out there and then it's gone and ignored again. When Vic finally becomes a believer (courtesy of a rather misplaced sex scene with the aforementioned not-dead woman), all I can think is, “Good. Maybe he'll stop whining and asking the same Deep Questions.” Ultimately, there's nothing really wrong with the story, per se. It doesn't have any glaring holes or incongruities that make it hard to follow. It's actually very straightforward. It's just boring. I'll spare you the details, in case you decide to see the film, but I will say that the climax fares no better.
Like the story, the direction lacks any apparent flaws, but also lacks any scrap of inspiration. Daniel Myrick, while certainly able to compose a shot and light it correctly, seems to be unable to do anything original in Believers. When he does try to do something interesting, such as the gentle shaking of the camera during the more “intense” scenes, it just harkens back to his work on The Blair Witch Project, but without the raw edge. It almost makes you wonder if, maybe, the dolly was broken that day and they had to make do with an uncoordinated camera assistant instead. Myrick also tries to add interest by showing several scenes through the black and white television image, presumably from the myriad of security cameras littering the compound. The effect is done well, in the sense that I can't find any technical flaws, but it's something we’ve seen before. Further, by showing the scenes through the “innovative” security camera view, the viewer is removing the audience from a film already showing signs of impotence when it comes to suspense.
The end result is a film that looks and feels cheap, like a pair of wannabe designer sunglasses you pick up from a street vendor. Sure, they'll protect your eyes from the sun, and they don't look bad, but they'll never be a pair of Ray Bans, no matter how hard they try. Believers is no different. With competent direction, consistent story, and no imagination, it does what it absolutely must: it tells its tale from beginning to end. If you were expecting the thrills and shocks of quality horror, you're going to need to look somewhere else.