Michele Soavi’s ‘The Sect’ on Blu-ray reviewed

 It’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ on LSD! Our verdict? “This is one of the weirdest films you’ll ever see”.

Miriam (Kelly Curtis) is not having the best of days – having narrowly avoided running over an old man standing in the middle of the road she takes him back to her home where he promptly dies, but not before he’s stuffed an extinct earwig up her nose.  He does his because he’s the head of a satanic cult who have deliberately chosen Miriam for their great purpose and their…

No, I give up.  I’ve re-written that opening paragraph several times now in a bid to have it make some kind of sense, but the film’s several steps ahead of me – it makes no sense at all.  It’s a deliberate ploy, because the oneiric qualities of the narrative stretch throughout the production.  There’s a prologue, set in the ‘70s, in which the demonic cult murder a group of hippies somewhere, but it’s never explained why they do this.  (It’s possible that Miriam was one of the children of the hippies, but that’s never made clear.)

Skip forward to 1991 and the cult brutally slay a young woman in Germany, but again it’s not explained why they’re doing this.  It’s not even made clear why we’re in Germany at all.  I suppose one country’s as good as another when it comes to this kind of thing, but that doesn’t explain why a young American woman is teaching at a German school, nor why all the children at the school speak English.  Come to think of it, everyone in the film speaks English, which only serves to confuse.  Why not just set the film in the States?

Then again, logic isn’t the primary objective of the film, and given that the Satanists are working to their own agenda I suppose it wouldn’t be.  The script’s co-written by Dario Argento, so the focus was always going to be on mood and atmosphere over linear logic, and Argento’s out in force here.  When even Miriam’s pet rabbit has a character (it watches TV at one point, channel hopping quite literally) we’re not in a normal film at all.  ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ on LSD could be an appropriate description.

Herbert Lom plays the cult leader and plays this with a gravitas I’m not entirely sure the material deserves, but it works in the film’s favour.  None of the cast, in fact, are giving knowing performances (Kelly Curtis frequently looks confused, but given some of the choices her character makes, that’s entirely appropriate.  That she’s caught up in one of the most insane plots ever filmed excuses a great deal) and instead play it dead straight.  Michele Soavi’s direction is grounded too, which only makes the more bizarre elements of the plot seem stranger still.  If you’ve ever longed for a film containing a dream sequence in which a woman is raped by a stork before it rips out her throat then this is that film.

Soavi’s direction is perhaps one of the film’s highlights – he grounds everything in reality, whilst still finding inventively interesting ways to fill a frame, frequently through the use of nature (but then, with bunnies, storks and babies, fertility and the renewing elements of the natural world are as much a part of the narrative as the unholy), all of which serves to highlight just how peculiar everything is.

An impressive 2k restoration gives the option of watching the film in either English or Italian (it was filmed in English, although the majority of the cast were Italian and their lines dubbed.  The Italian language version is in 5.1 with English subtitles for the very first time). The film has a deliberately hazy sheen and the restoration retains that perfectly. Some grain is evident as it should be and the colours are vibrant and strong.  Blacks, in particular, are well rendered. Aside from trailers, the only extra is a comprehensive half-hour interview with the director.

This is a decidedly odd film.  Despite being an Italian horror it’s not a Giallo. Although it’s from the early ‘90s it doesn’t seem to belong to the era, yet despite the obvious links to ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ it doesn’t feel like a shameless cash-in either; rather it’s its own beast, a highly peculiar film in which outrageously strange things happen simply for the sake of them, yet they all seem to play their part in the narrative.  Frequently arresting, jam-packed with moments that are memorably deranged, this is one of the weirdest films you’ll ever see.

❉ ‘The Sect’ is released by Shameless Screen Entertainment on Blu-ray (SHAM204), RRP £12.99..

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