Cult Killer 2024 Movie Review
A private investigator is forced into a dangerous alliance with a killer in order to uncover a quiet town’s grisly criminal underbelly and clear the name of her mentor, who is implicated in the crimes.
Deeply disturbing and shocking, director Jon Keeyes’ Cult Killer comes close, although not close enough to overcoming the sense that it’s, more than anything, shock value. The film stars Alice Eve as recovering alcoholic and private detective Cassie Holt, who has slipped up after five years of sobriety with a night of drinking. In the morning, she receives the tragic news that her sponsor and private investigator friend Mikeal (Antonio Banderas) was found brutally murdered, immediately spurring her into action to find out who is responsible and why.
It is quickly revealed that Cassie has suffered through childhood sexual abuse, leaving her abandoned by her family and justifiably cautious of every man she comes across (at one point, she mentions that Mikeal was the only guy who didn’t pursue sexual relations with her.) Rather than play games about the identity of the killer and leave the motive a mystery, it is also made clear that the killer, Shelley Hennig’s Jamie Douglas, is also a sexual abuse survivor acknowledging that she made a mistake murdering Mikeal, presuming that he was working with the wealthy, nasty elitist group running an expansive pedophile ring that had here in captivity since she was 14, where she became an instant favorite among the slimy men and women disgustingly using her as a play toy.
While it’s nice having Antonio Banderas here as a reliable veteran presence during flashbacks helping Cassie get sober and mentoring her on how to be a private investigator, proper gun safety, combat training, stakeouts, and imparting general life wisdom, it’s a subplot that ultimately feels unnecessary as if it exists to satisfy that close-minded portion of male viewers who need to see a woman’s training before they believe she is capable of accomplishing anything. It’s meant to complicate her thoughts and feelings toward the killer, but that’s not what is intriguing about this story.
As Cult Killer continues, the narrative (coming from a script by Charles Burnley) squares in on the similar trauma these women share, bluntly showing that some people can move on, start over, and find a new lease on life, whereas others find themselves broken on a vengeful path without disregard for their safety or what happens next. In theory, that is a fantastic idea to explore within what is also a serial killer feature (Jamie has escaped and is on a tear murdering anyone involved with her abuse), but the filmmakers fail awkwardly with split-screen scenes of them showing and talking about trauma as casually as teenagers would chat about crushes over the phone.
However, what also almost saves the film is something entirely unexpected; the ones in charge of this pedophile ring are not only an elderly couple, but the more twisted one is the woman, creepily played by Olwen Fouéré. For anyone bored seeing older women shoehorned into specific types of roles, this is an unhinged, horrifying turn with a refreshingly vile twist. Even when Cult Killer is on a familiar path (and for the most part, it almost always is), it is compelling getting to know and learn about the nature of this horrific couple (one doesn’t even want to imagine what their first date was like).
There are assuredly some satisfying cheap thrills here, but it’s easy to imagine how much more effective in stimulating Cult Killer could have been from zeroing in on the bond between the abused women at the center rather than spending nearly half of its running time on flashbacks involving Antonio Banderas.