Periodically, we hear of religious cults gone wrong, leading to the deaths of many people. The Peoples Temple, the Branch Davidians, and Heaven's Gate are just a few of the infamous cults that have destroyed the lives of many people. However, there is a psychological factor in both the people who join and the people who lead these cults. "Savage Messiah" bravely explores these areas in an intelligent and thought-provoking way.
Paula Jackson (Polly Walker) is a social worker for Children's Aid, a government program dedicated to protecting children (and wives if applicable) from abuse. One day, she is visited by a group of women who live in a commune with a man named Roch (Luc Picard), whom they believe is the prophet Moses. The women ask for assistance in protecting the kids from the upcoming Canadian winter. She agrees, but after an infant from the commune dies, she begins investigating. What she discovers will lead her in an uphill battle to save the lives of the women and the children in the commune. And perhaps her own.
"Savage Messiah" is being marketed as a thriller, and that's not true. This is a dramatic film with little or no suspense in the way that we normally think of it. To be sure, this is a dark and at times disturbing film, but it is a drama. To be more specific, it's a mix between a detective story and a courtroom drama.
The acting is great. Polly Walker, an actress whom I've been a fan of ever since I saw her unforgettable performance in HBO's "Rome," gives another terrific performance. She's like Erin Brockovich, only less abrasive. She knows there's something going on at the commune, and nothing is going to stop her from finding the truth, even if it puts her life in danger. Although this makes her courageous and valiant, it sometimes has devastating consequences.
Her co-star, Luc Picard, is suitable for the film's purposes, but nothing more. He makes Roch into a credible psychopath, and we believe that he's dangerous, and how he can use his charisma to get insecure women to do what he wants, but he fails to be "go the extra mile." He doesn't really arrest our attention, certainly not in the way that Walker does. Still, he makes the movie work.
The other important character is Lise, one of the women from the commune. The actress playing her, Isabelle Blais, is also very good. She has that almost demented belief in her cult that is typical of someone in her position. But through Polly's persistence, she begins to realize how much Roch is hurting her and the people in the commune.
Mario Azzopardi attempts to give the film a dark and menacing atmosphere, but budget constraints clearly hamper his efforts. Still, the film is well-told, although there's nothing special about the way he presents the material. The film moves at solid pace, and all loose ends are tied up by the end.
"Savage Messiah" is not always an easy film to watch, but it's well worth it.