Film4 FrightFest: Missionary

With its twisted tale of obsessive, unrequited love and the dark and violent places it can take us, Missionary follows a more or less typical woman-stalked-by-crazed-suitor narrative. While it doesn’t stray too far from a well-trodden path, it doesn’t feel too conventional due to its slow-burn approach, careful characterisation and decent performances. At times it echoes those early 90s cuckoo-in-the-nest psycho thrillers like Fatal Attraction, Unlawful Entry, Fear and myriad made-for-TV thrillers in which an unhinged outsider worms his/her way into an all-American family only to eventually show their true psychotic colours when their obsession reaches fever pitch.

 

Director Anthony DiBlasi (Dread, Cassadaga) really takes his time to establish the various characters, the mundanity of their lives and the longing each of them has for that certain seemingly unattainable ‘something’. Katherine is a confused young mother, lonely and desperate after moving back to her hometown when her husband cheated on her. Kevin is a seemingly lost and lonely young man who stumbled into God’s arms while mourning the death of his one true love. Or so he says. After a brief encounter they begin a tentative affair, but when Katherine’s estranged husband returns in a bid to make up for his mistakes and bring his family together again, Kevin refuses to back off and, as the story unfolds, it becomes obvious the handsome young Elder is not the do-gooder he seems to be. That he is a member of the Church of the Latter Day Saints never feels exploitative; it adds an interesting dimension, but one that is never explored in any great depth.

 

With understated performances and unfussy direction, the various flaws of each of the characters come to the fore. Particularly convincing is Mitch Ryan as the initially very appealing Mormon. His performance ensures Kevin’s gradual transition from dreamy saint to menacing threat is a credible one. Kevin is obviously a delusional psychotic but he is still very human; there are no histrionics, only confusion, hurt and mixed emotions. He firmly believes in what he preaches and that he and Katherine can form a ‘celestial union’ in the eyes of God. This is bolstered by a script (courtesy of Bruce Wood and Scott Poiley) not afraid to take its time and get beneath the skin of the characters while maintaining a sense of realism.

 

The use of working-class settings and characters help ground the story and make it more believable, the script exploring the pros and cons of small-town life, aptly conveyed in one stand-out scene. It also takes barbed potshots at US legislation regarding stalking, restraining orders and social conduct, essentially suggesting the law is not on the side of the victim. One or two moments risk plunging the story into more outlandish places — particularly when Katherine investigates the contents of a sack flung through her window — but DiBlasi maintains a firm hand on the reins and ensures Missionary slow-burns its way to a satisfying and strangely moving finale.

 

James Gracey

 

Missionary screens today at 10.30 a.m.