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Case Number 12323

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Believers

Warner Bros. // 2007 // 103 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ben Saylor (Retired) // November 5th, 2007

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All Rise...

Judge Ben Saylor finds it hard to get worked up about a cult involving math when he never got past pre-calculus.

The Charge

Do not intervene. Do not try to stop them.

Opening Statement

Warner Bros.' straight-to-DVD series Raw Feed, which includes Rest Stop and Sublime, continues with Believers, helmed by none other than The Blair Witch Project co-director Daniel Myrick.

Facts of the Case

Paramedics Dave (Johnny Messner, Running Scared) and Vic (Jon Huertas) respond to a call near a remote gas station, finding a little girl and her dying mother. While working on the mother, a truck pulls up filled with a bunch of white-shirted, gun-toting folk. They kidnap the girl, her mother, and the paramedics, taking them to an abandoned missile base. The kidnappers are part of the Quanta Group, a cult governed by "empirical evidence" handed down from the mysterious, reclusive Teacher (Daniel Benzali, Murder One). As the members of Quanta await the time when they will depart Earth to avoid a fiery apocalypse, what will Dave and Vic choose to believe?

The Evidence

From the looks of the Rest Stop and Sublime trailers (helpfully tacked on before the menu on this disc), the Raw Feed series is supposed to consist of scary (or at the very least, disturbing) movies. The filmmakers evidently didn't get that memo, because this movie isn't at all frightening. In fact, despite the fact that this version is "unrated," if they had removed all the cursing, I highly doubt this would have been rated higher than PG-13.

The failure on the part of the writers (Daniel Noah along with Myrick and Julia Fair) to provide details on the cult is the main reason for the lack of scares here. We learn almost nothing about the Quanta Group beyond the fact that they're into math, dress in white, and speak calmly. That first trait is a major problem; Myrick and his collaborators really wrote themselves into a corner by having the cult base its beliefs on a mathematical formula. Like Ron Howard showed in his awful The Da Vinci Code, it's not easy to make numbers and symbols interesting on film. By making their beliefs so dry and boring, the group seems almost harmless. Sure, they threaten Dave and Vic with guns, but they're obviously much more interested in converting them than they are in killing them. I'm guessing this withholding of information was done to build up a sense of dread in the viewer, but since we never see the Quanta people do anything particularly cruel (until near the end), there's nothing to get worked up about. After a while, I got as stir-crazy as Dave and Vic were when they were locked up in bathroom stalls, only I wasn't scared; I was bored.

It doesn't get much better as the film progresses. We only learn the most basic details about Dave and Vic. Dave and his wife Deborah (Elizabeth Bogush), after a long period of unsuccessful attempts, are expecting a baby. Dave is a staunch atheist who approaches every situation with logic and reason. Vic, on the other hand, is a lifelong Catholic with nagging doubts about his faith. The Quanta Group tries to convert them both; guess who gets sucked in and who doesn't? This leads up to another bizarre aspect of the film: conversion practices. Apparently all it takes to become converted to Quanta, depending on the subject, is sex and drugs or electrocution and drugs. Seems a tad uneven to me.

Precious little is also learned about The Teacher. The filmmakers stash him a darkened control room for the majority of the film with the excuse that he's susceptible to infection. His powers (apparently) include being able to bring people back from the dead and even control what people say. How he does any of this is never explained. Anyway, it all leads up to a "twist" ending that even M. Night Shyamalan would consider too obvious.

Not that it's all bad. In terms of acting, Messner and Huertas are actually pretty good in their roles, or at least as good as they can be with their unimaginative, cuss-heavy dialogue. Erik Passoja is effectively creepy as the perpetually calm Io, the second-in-command of the Quanta Group. Benzali, who was always so annoying in his recurring role on NYPD Blue, uses his raspy voice to good effect, although most of his lines are nonsensical, theoretical mumbo jumbo. Saige Ryan Campbell is also fine as Libby, the little girl whose mother Dave and Vic work on at the beginning of the film. Look for John Farley (Chris' brother) as a Quanta enforcer, and Raw Feed fans should recognize Rest Stop's Deanna Russo, who plays Rebecca, the woman Dave and Vic treat at the beginning of the film. I also like the film's music, done by Kays Al-Atrakchi. The cinematography by Andrew Huebscher is good if not particularly outstanding, and thankfully Myrick largely avoids whipping the camera around and cutting quickly in an attempt to be "gritty" and "edgy."

The disc itself looks and sounds fine; this was a low-budget production, but technically speaking it's not too shabby. For extras, we get a commentary by Myrick and Fair. It's actually a pretty good track; they talk pretty consistently throughout the film. They tend to go overboard when praising the cast, but overall, it's pretty informative, especially when Myrick discusses the challenges of making the film on a fifteen-day shooting schedule and a limited budget. The disc also contains several featurettes that are meant to add more information about the people and events in the film. They are done by the actors in character. For example, one bit has The Teacher prattling on about Quanta's beliefs, whereas another has Io giving an orientation speech for new Quanta members. These featurettes, none of which lasts five minutes, are kind of clever but don't really add anything. The disc also contains an extremely misleading trailer which makes Believers seem like a thrill-a-minute nail-biter. Not included in the special features section but presented before the main menu is a huge smattering of trailers, including one for the upcoming Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend.

Closing Statement

Slow and uninvolving, Believers ultimately comes off like a slightly more polished Sci-Fi Channel original movie. The characters are one-dimensional, the script leaves far too much unexplained and the ending is silly and predictable. Only the most avid Myrick and/or Raw Feed fans should check this out.

The Verdict

The "undeniable truth," as the Quanta Group would put it, is that Believers is guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 93
Extras: 85
Acting: 85
Story: 60
Judgment: 66

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• Chinese
• French
• Korean
• Spanish
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genre:
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary by Director Daniel Myrick and Writer Julia Fair
• Extended Lina Vance Show Interview
• Introduction to the Facility
• Hidden Camera Video of Monologues by The Teacher
• Hidden Glasses Camera Video of Io Explaining the Formula
• Forensic Video of Crime Scene Aftermath
• Trailer

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site








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