Cult Hero is directed by Jesse Thomas Cook and written by Kevin Revie, based on a story by Cook, Liv Collins, and Tony Burgess. Once upon a time, Dale Domazar (Ry Barrett) was the star of the popular TV show Cult Buster. He traveled across America, investigating and breaking up cults until a disastrous season finale resulted in his fall from grace. Presently, Domazar is approached by real estate agent Kallie Jones (Collins), who asks for his help in saving her husband, Brad (Justin Bott). Brad checked into a wellness center to “reconnect” with himself, but the behavior of the wellness center’s leader Master Jagori (Tony Burgess) and his employees leads Kallie to believe Brad’s been sucked into a cult.
I freely admire movies that aim for schlock—The Velocipastor, Wolfcop, and even Venom: Let There Be Carnage. These films had a delightfully gonzo premise they saw through to the end. But more than that, they’re fun. I genuinely enjoyed them because the filmmakers, cast, and crew had no pretensions about what they were making. Instead, they embraced the insanity of their setups, and while it wasn’t going to gain critical acclaim or award nominations, you at least knew what you were getting. Cult Hero gets this half right: it has a great premise, but the execution falls flatter than day-old soda.
A large part of that is due to the focus placed on Kallie. There’s no easy way to put this…Kallie is the ultimate Karen. She pokes her nose where it doesn’t belong, she’s into meditation and needlepoint, and one of her big action lines is “I’d like to speak to your manager.” However, the script and Cook’s direction, which heavily favors montages, display her as shrill and unlikeable, to the point where viewers won’t blame Brad for seeking solace in the wellness center. Heck, after the final fight, my immediate thought was, “Brad should really ask for a divorce from this woman.”
On the other hand, Barrett jumps into the role of Domazar with glee. He has all the hallmarks of a Chuck Norris-esque personality—overconfidence in his abilities, a surprising amount of competence in firearms and hand-to-hand combat, and willingness to do whatever it takes to stay on top. His energy is the film’s best part, as it serves to counterbalance Collins’ more shrill performance and provides some of the film’s best laughs. Case in point, when Domazar comes up with an elaborate plan to infiltrate Jagori’s fortress, he’s almost immediately found out, all because he wore regular glasses instead of his trademark shades.
And when it comes to the action sequences, Cult Hero truly shines. Cook films them with the over-the-top zeal of a grindhouse film; heads burst open, blood coats the screen, and just about everything can be used as a weapon. There are also sequences filmed to look like episodes of Cult Hero, and from the grainy footage to the neon-soaked title, they’re perfectly 80s. The film even ends on a freeze frame!
Cult Hero squanders what could have been a great premise with a profoundly uninteresting lead, though its production value and violence have just the right amount of grindhouse value. Time will tell if this becomes a cult classic, but what it’s doing has been done before and far better.
Cult Hero had its premiere at Fantasia International Film Fest 2022.
Cult Hero squanders what could have been a great premise with a profoundly uninteresting lead, though its production value and violence have just the right amount of grindhouse value.