his year I was fortunate enough to be given press credentials for the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival. I will be writing about what I watch here and at the Cultural Gutter in Notes and in a final round-up piece in August.
Cult Hero (Canada, 2022) is a new entry into the proud and storied tradition of low budget Canadian exploitation films, from the Canadian tax shelter films of the 1980s to the work of Odessa Film Works and Astron 6. And like (many of) those films, Cult Hero is a good time. Written by Kevin Revie from a story by Tony Burgess and Liv Collins, who star in the film, and Jesse Thomas Cook, who directs it, Cult Hero is the kind of scrappy production that warms my heart.
Dale Domazar is the former star of Cult Buster, a reality tv show like Cops or Dog The Bounty Hunter. Dale is played by Ry Barrett with an intensity that feels like if Jason Sudeikis played the Ultimate Warrior on Saturday Night Live. Dale is a Zap Rowsdower for the 21st Century. Dale was disgraced when a cult bust went extremely fatal. His show was canceled and his private investigator license was revoked. Since then Dale has been living in an RV in the woods, making cameos for his remaining fans on old video equipment and trying to make a comeback. Dale gets his chance when Kallie Jones (Liv Collins), former top realtor at Scenic City Realty, calls him with a problem. Her husband, Brad (Justin Bott), went into an Owen Sound wellness center for what she thought was a weekend or so, but now she’s pretty sure he’s in a cult.
No one believes Kallie because there’s a lot of video of her losing her shit and reporting people over nothing. Kallie is officious, controlling, jealous of rival realtor Cynthia Doyle (Jessica Dano), barely holding it together and completely ready to call the manager or the cops on anything. But together Dale and Kallie are going to bust this cult wide open and save Brad, if he even wants to be saved. Brad is having a pretty nice time away from Kallie He is learning to set some boundaries. Cause while Kallie is terrifying, Brad has been self-destructively and nebbishly passive. Then again, Brad doesn’t seen so sure about Master Jagori (Tony Burgess) insisting that Kallie not attend his leveling up ceremony. And Brad doesn’t seem so sure about this whole Ascension business everyone is talking about at the wellness center. Master Jagori (Tony Burgess) has a higher quality of cult follower than The Final Sacrifice‘s Ziox ever did. Jagori knows the power of ayahuasca memoirs and religious movements created by science fiction authors. In fact, he top lieutenants are all fanboys who believe in his books. But Dale is determined to make season two of Cult Buster happen, and Kallie is determined to save her marriage, and cult busting might be just the thing everyone needs to change their lives for the better. Even if it means some dudes in skull masks bite it.
Dale and Kallie are both awful in their way. They are over the top confrontational and acting out fantasies of control and persecution on Kallie’s part and 1980s action star heroism on Dale’s. But the script is ultimately kind to both–not in reinforcing their respective world views necessarily. But you won’t be surprised to learn that they do accomplish their goals in the end. There’s a styling choice made for Kallie at the end of the film that I wash hadn’t been made. I understand how it shows her growth and change in shorthand, but I think it would work better if she kept more of her old style choices. But that’s a small criticism.
Cult Hero is a fun time, reminiscent of straight to video wonders. It has nice gore, cool skull masks, some creepy characters, and all around delightful commitment to character with both Liv Collins’ Kallie and Ry Barrett’s Dale.
Plus, I have the damn Ascension song stuck in my head.
I received a review copy of Cult Hero. Carol Borden is an editor at and evil overlord of The Cultural Gutter, a website dedicated to thoughtful writing about disreputable art. She was a writer for and editor of the Toronto International Film Festival’s official Midnight Madness andVanguard program blogs. She has written for Biff Bam Pop, Soldier of Cinema, Mezzanotte, Teleport City, Die Danger Die Die Kill, and Popshifter. She’s appeared on CBC radio, The Projection Booth podcast, The Feminine Critique podcast, and the Infernal Brains podcast. She’s written a bunch of short stories including Godzilla detective fiction, femme fatale mermaids, an adventurous translator/poet, and an x-ray tech having a bad day. You can find them here.