25th Aug2013

‘Missionary’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Mitch Ryan, Connor Christie, Dawn Olivieri, Jesse Malinowski, Kip Pardue | Written by Bruce Wood, Scott Poiley | Directed by Anthony DiBlasi

missionary-ryan

Despite having seen both of Anthony DiBlasi’s previous films, Dread and Cassadaga, on the big screen at Frightfest, it’s safe to say I’m not the biggest fan of his work – his two prior movies were, at least for me, very much middle-of-the-road efforts that did nothing to surprise or excite. So going into Missionary I’ll be brutally honest and say that I wasn’t really expecting much.

The film tells the story of single mum Katharine Kingsmen, who’s having a hard time raising her son Kesley on her own. So when two Mormon missionaries arrive at the door to preach the gospel, she doesn’t see any harm in them playing football with him. But for Elder Brock it’s the prelude to a major test of his faith as he seduces Katharine and becomes increasingly obsessed by the perfect family life he’s always wanted. But when Katherine shuns his affections, after realising the mistake she’s making, it tips Elder Brock over the edge and the retribution is certainly more ungodly than anyone expected…

Expectations seem to be the order of the day when it comes to Missionary. No-one expects a god-fearing Mormon to turn total psycho and I didn’t expect director Anthony DiBlasi to knock one out of the park… Which he does, with ease.

Where Missionary succeeds over DiBlasi’s previous efforts is in it’s pacing. DiBlasi spends time to establish the characters and the mundanity they find themselves in. This time round he also under plays his own direction, bringing a much more naturalistic approach to his filmmaking which is a real departure from his previous movies. Thankfully DiBlasi has a great script to work with, which takes its time in building to a crescendo, exploring the lives of the working class Katherine and her estranged husband, and the day-to-day routine of Elder Brock, giving a real insight into why he eventually does what he does – and without vilifying the Mormon faith. This approach to storytelling brings a real depth to Missionary‘s characters, which then truly pays off when the inevitable madness ensues.

Of course a script is nothing without the actors and DiBlasi has two fantastic actors in Mitch Ryan and Dawn Olivieri. Ryan brings the sensitivity needed to portray a man seeking meaning in his life through religion, and the appeal his character needs to feel credible as a love interest for Katherine. It’s his performance which grounds Elder Brock’s transition from soft-spoken Mormon to (to quote our very own Jack Kirby) a Mor-monster… And Olivieri is his perfect foil. She gives a compelling, some would say mesmerising, performance as the put-upon mother who finds the affection she wants and needs in Elder Brock – superbly walking a fine line between innocence and smouldering sexuality. Without Olivieri’s central performance I doubt this tale would have been quite as successful.

Essentially yet another take on the oft-told “Fatal Attraction” story, Missionary won’t score points for originality in plot but it really doesn’t need to. Everything else about the film, from the direction to the script, from the pacing to the performances, are top-notch – elevating the film way above others of its ilk and giving me hope for DiBlasi’s next feature, the awesome-sounding Paymon: The King of Hell.

***** 5/5

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