DVD Releases: One Of Us (2017) - Reviewed

There are reportedly around 3000 groups currently in the United States that are considered cults, a surprisingly high number. They aren’t all necessarily dangerous or violent, but are still included by the definitions that have been set forth. The recent TV series American Horror Story: Cult tackled the subject matter, depicting true cults such as the Manson Family and the Peoples Temple as they mirrored the actions of an extremist group in the local town. The new film One of Us tries to do the same, but in a more subdued and less extreme way. Despite the solid performance from Derek Smith as the charismatic cult leader Brent, One of Us is only an average thriller that comes off as a made-for-TV movie or PSA warning about the dangers of a cult group. 

Melanie is a young journalist who decides to go undercover to investigate a small cult mountain commune, searching for a missing college friend and a juicy story. She soon finds herself under the control of the duplicitous cult leader Brent and must try to escape before he has total control of her. There is no doubt that the writers wanted to create an authentic cult group and how they typically manage to seduce and manipulate new followers, which all seems quite realistic. The cult leader and his actions also appear realistic based on historical evidence and various documentaries about real cult groups. The problem is that it all ends up being pretty bland. Besides the sort of twist ending and some hallucinogenic scenes, there is nothing scary or extreme that occurs. It’s very PG with anything bad being pulled off screen. On top of that, the premise or belief that this journalist is just going to assimilate herself into this group and be perfectly fine is slightly ridiculous. 

The acting is a mixed bag. Derek Smith delivers a believable performance as the cult leader Brent. He was natural and had the likability that would be necessary to seduce other people. He is by far the best part of the movie. The downside to his portrayal is that he didn’t get too extreme or erratic with his behavior, which might have improved the performance. It was somewhat there at the end, but it was a dialed down version of what could have been. Carly Schroeder was the other bright spot, playing the friendly cult member Venus. She was natural and believable, while also getting a chance to display a far darker side. Christa B. Allen’s performance as Melanie was all over the place. At first, she’s kind of wooden and the plot and dialogue make her look brazen and stupid, constantly asking straightforward questions that would obviously draw attention. Her performance gradually improves as her situation becomes increasingly dire, but she’s never a character that we root to survive or win. She’s not the “final girl.” 

It appears as though the filmmakers were trying to create something that was palatable to a large audience, as opposed to horror fans. They definitely succeeded in that. There is a sex scene, but it is quickly cut away. The violence is minimal and mostly implied offscreen. The only parts that would be mildly troubling to some are the hallucinogenic or dream sequences, which just reminded me of the Bray Wyatt vignettes from WWE. 

Currently on Amazon Prime and coming to DVD, One of Us is the low sodium or diet version of what a cult film should be. Despite a strong performance from Smith, it lacks the punch of spices that could have made it a memorable movie. 

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