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Default Believers, The




Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: February 19, 2003

Released by: MGM
Release date: 8/27/2002
MSRP: $24.99
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes



When does religion and its rituals go too far? That is the question that John Schlesingerís film, The Believers, asks its audience. Jesus sacrificed himself for the Christina religion, so why should practices of animal and human sacrifice be taken as taboo? The Believers was released by the now defunct Orion pictures during its last wave of prosperity in 1987. It did moderate business, and is now being released on DVD courtesy of MGM. Does Schlesinger capitalize on the religious background of the story, or is this a mere way to exploit gore through sacrifice? Take out the rosary and letís find out.

The Story

inline Image "Thereís no use in crying over spilled milk", but in Cal Jamison (Martin Sheen) and his son Chrisí (Harley Cross) case, spilled milk serves as the catalyst to a series of frightful events. As the Jamison family prepares for a day of school and work, Mrs. Jamison is unexpectedly electrocuted when spilled milk serves as a conductor for her freak electrocution. Trying to pick up all the pieces, Cal and his son move to a new house, but regardless where they go they cannot seem to escape their immanent fate.

inline Image Cal has had little time to settle in when he receives a call to treat a disgruntled policeman. Cal is a psychiatrist, and in speaking with Tom Lopez (Jimmy Smits) he learns of a deadly religious event. Two small children have been murdered, or better yet, sacrificed, for the sake of the Santeria religion. Lopez feels not only that he will be next, but that both Cal and his son are also in danger. Cal has somewhat given up on religion due to the godless death of his wife, but religion appears to have not forgotten about him.

inline Image A sinister looking tribesman, Palo (Malick Bowens), begins to surface in and around Calís life. He puts a curse on Calís new love interest and appears to have a particular fondness for Calís son. Slowly Cal and his family are brought into this mysterious chain of religious events, and with only one sacrifice left for the Santerian God left, who will it be?

inline Image The Believers is an at times provocative, if by the numbers, suspense film. Scripted by Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost, The Believers contains some strong ideas and propositions about religion in general. It deals with fate, and why one should believe in a God that has only dealt out bad cards. It also deals with beliefs and customs, and where the line must be drawn when it comes to practicing a certain faith. However compelling these ideas sound though, this film is ultimately a spooky supernatural story with a little bit of religion thrown in the mix.

inline Image The characters run around and discover snakes, spiders, dead bodies and scattered insides when they should perhaps be attending mass. Despite its religious theme, there is really nothing new being presented in this film, but thanks to fine performances and focussed direction by John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) the film is able to sustain suspense and remain entertaining. Greg Stillson, err Martin Sheen, creates an emotional and strong minded lead character that Mel Gibson might have taken a few notes from for his character in Signs. Sheenís character is not perfect, but he loves his son, and witnessing the emotional roller coaster he goes through along the way is involving.

The movie somewhat missteps with an undeveloped love story between Sheen and Helen Shaver. He moves in to a new place, then returns the cigarettes she dropped, and then all of a sudden they are in bed after sex. Sheenís character is a suave fellow, but if Shaver is going to become a central character in the latter parts of the film, her relationship to the Jamisonís should have been developed more.

The Believers contains a few mild gore scenes, but overall the director handles the sacrificial themes of the film quite tastefully. Schlesinger is instead able to build suspense through some quick but composed editing. Although the story is not nearly as original as Frostís work on Twin Peaks, it still has enough creativity to satisfy those who enjoy their suspense with a pinch of religious subtext. Given Schlesingerís past record, this could have been a deeper film, but for what it is it works just fine.

Image Quality

inline ImagePresented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, this is a good transfer by MGM. The print is almost entirely free of blemishes, and it looks quite sharp. Grain is kept at a minimum, even during those dark tribal scenes. There was some slight color bleeding that occurred with some of the pinkís of Shaverís clothing, but otherwise colors remained solid.

Sound

The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track included on this disc is very good. There is plenty of depth to the sound effects and music, and everything sounds as clean and clear as holy water. There are some nice directional movements between the front speakers, with everything from flying planes to Martin Sheenís panting in the opening shot. The track is rather aggressive, especially near the end of the film, and really gives the onscreen happenings a real kick.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageA teaser and the original theatrical trailer are the only supplements included on this release. The teaser is a great introduction into the theme of the film and is highly suspenseful. Start up the teaser before the film and save the other one for after.

Final Thoughts

The Believers is an effective suspense film with a religious background to keep things fresh. The always-enjoyable Martin Sheen gives another very strong performance that anchors the film. MGM has done a nice job with the video and the audio, and the teaser trailer is worth the look. Fans of the film will probably already own this, but if you are looking for a grownup suspense film, then you should find enjoyment with this disc.

Rating

Movie - B
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B
Supplements - C-

Technical Info.
  • Running Time - 1 hour, 56 minutes
  • Color
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby 2.0 Stereo
  • French Dolby 2.0 Stereo
  • English subtitles
  • French subtitles
  • Spanish subtitles
Supplements
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Teaser trailer

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