Netflix Horror Spotlight brings you Wicked Horror’s top picks for what to watch on Netflix, whether it’s the latest indie darling, a classic masterpiece or a silly slasher that deserves a little bit more attention. In this edition, Joey Keogh presents the little-known indie shocker Missionary.
Recently, you may have been unlucky enough to catch J-Lo desperately trying to be sexy with/act afraid of a psychopathic neighbor in the rubbish The Boy Next Door. Missionary is the exact opposite of that film. A sleeper hit at Frighfest 2014 it is a quietly tense take on a down-on-her-luck single mother who finds comfort in the arms of a Mormon do-gooder, only to discover that he’s actually a psycho intent on making her and her young son part of his “family”.
Director Anthony DiBlasi has a number of horror credits to his name (Cassadaga, Dread) but Missionary is his master-stroke, a composed and terrifying little shocker that plays, for the most part, like an indie drama, meaning its genre elements are revealed slower and pop more as a result. This is thanks, in particular, to a star turn by the movie’s villain. Mitch Ryan, who plays the sinister Elder Brock. This is incredibly astute casting, especially as, prior to this role, his biggest credit was a stint on teen show One Tree Hill.
At first, Brock seems like a master of self control, quiet and innocent to a fault, but when his dark side comes out (most notably, in a lengthy speech during which he pontificates about God’s plan and the idea of family), and his troubled background is revealed, he’s absolutely terrifying. It’s an incredibly natural performance from Ryan, whom DiBlasi described as boasting all-American looks (“the kind of guy you want to marry”) with a bit of an edge, a quirkiness to him.
However, credit must go, too, to Dawn Olivieri who takes to the role of struggling young mother Catherine with aplomb. An early sequence sees her crying amongst the scrapheap in the dealership in which she’s barely scraping a living, but crucially she never shows any sign of weakness in front of her kid or ex-husband–and, even more importantly, when Brock turns, she acts rationally, ensuring her child is safe first and foremost.
Missionary employs a rather simple premise, the kind that has been done over and over again but, aside from the obvious strains of the cheesy Fatal Attraction, which will always be a touchstone for these kind of jilted lover revenge flicks, it has much in common with Kevin Smith’s Red State or, more recently, Ti West’s The Sacrament.
Both films dealt, as Missionary does, with hardcore religious enthusiasts, the kinds of damaged people who are committed and disciplined to a fault (watch how Brock makes himself physically sick so he can fake an illness, or how easily he dispenses with Catherine’s ex-husband) and are therefore easily drawn into the kind of family-like atmosphere a cult represents. DiBlasi takes this one step further as Brock is convinced that Catherine and, by extension, her son are his real, true family and they must be together at whatever cost.
Filmed entirely on location in Florida, the film is baked in an earthy, heavy, sun-drenched atmosphere that makes everything feel more claustrophobic. A beautiful, evocative score runs underneath the quiet, tense narrative, screeching to a halt when the real shocks come–and they do, with one particular instance of gore leaving a significant impression, not least because it comes out of nowhere. The final act, which takes place mostly in Catherine’s place of business, is snappily edited, the tension well-judged so it’s never quite clear whether Brock is going to get away with it or not.
Films this special don’t come around very often, but when they do, they push the boundaries of what could be considered horror. For much of its running time, Missionary plays like an indie family drama of sorts, but once its true intentions are revealed, it’s one of the creepiest modern takes on the revenge thriller–and nary a toned ab or a first edition of The Iliad in sight. Worth a watch for Mitch Ryan’s awe-inspiring performance alone, it marks DiBlasi out as one to watch, putting a new spin on an old story and challenging the notions of what is or isn’t horror.
Catch Missionary on Netflix now.