A young woman embeds herself in a cult looking for answers to her sister’s disappearance, only to find a dark secret within the cult and an even darker secret within herself.
Just like Ti West in his latest outing The Sacrament, Director Jourdan McClure and co-writer Ryan Finnerty clearly drew inspiration from the Jonestown mass murder-suicide. Whilst West opted to tell the story through the lens of a team of documentary filmmakers, Children of Sorrow is much more intent on showing audiences the evil masterminding at play behind these so-called suicide cults by providing a film shown almost entirely from the perspective of its founding Father, played disturbingly well by Bill Oberst Jr. in possibly his most harrowing performance yet.
This is found footage at its shakiest in terms of camerawork but, despite such rudimentary cinematography, primo performances and the hell hole we get dragged into swiftly divert your attention away from said distraction. This is particularly the case with Bill Oberst Jr. who is sure to win each and every one of you over, particularly with some inspired recordings of himself in candid conversations with his unsettling confidant, Mary (played by Whitney Nielsen). It is so damned disquieting to see him divulge his proficiency in manipulating people in their moments of all-out despair and desolation. At the same time it’s an absolute luxury to see such a talented actor give what is essentially a crash course in character acting in those scenes.
Obviously it requires more than one to make a cult, and to make it convincing, and the majority of the Father’s new flock put in frighteningly authentic performances. This is particularly the case of Ellen (Hannah Levien) who starts off as the least misguided member of the group, intent on revealing the truth behind her sister’s demise. In terms of the story, the filmmakers have no qualms in revealing from the word go that the Father will be leading his latest disciples to the slaughter but being aware of the outcome does absolutely no harm to the film and actually makes the viewer that much more eager to see how everything plays out. Then, when it’s time for the flock to meet its maker I’m confident you’ll be startled at just how downright disturbing and violent – and at times, tough to watch – the film becomes, something that I understand was not intended in the original screenplay.
Many have been quick to condemn the film as they couldn’t understand why a cult leader would want to show close up shots of his followers’ distressed reactions when they earn certain “recompenses.” For me, it was clear from square one that Father Leach had anything but good intentions and takes joy from getting the upper hand and putting his followers through intolerable physical and psychological pain and the video footage felt more like something he would want to keep as his own personal “trophy” rather than something he would want to share with anyone else as a means of luring more followers into his cult.
Children of Sorrow provides a harrowingly insightful look inside suicide cults. Whilst most found footage fare focuses heavily on supernatural yarns brimming with jump scares it was quite the relief to happen upon this psychologically-grounded hidden gem which ultimately made for a much more potent cinematic experience with a climax that is sure to shake you to your very core.
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)