Missionary (2013)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/26/13 13:21:07

"At least one Latter-Day Saint clearly isn't."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Put its Mormon trappings aside, and "Missionary" is the sort of basic "woman with a stalker" movie that hits all its marks well enough that the audience doesn't necessarily care that it's working from a standard list. It gets the job done, and does so well enough to stand out from a field of similar movies.

Katherine Kingsmen (Dawn Olivieri) came back to the small town in Florida where she grew up to care for a sick mother, and wound up staying there with her son Kesley (Connor Christie) after her husband Ian (Kip Pardue) cheated on him. He's back in the picture, but frequently absent, and when a pair of Mormon missionaries stop by and toss a football with Kesley, it doesn't seem like much until she spots hunky Kevin Brock (Mitch Ryan) walking by the side of the road and gives him a lift. A connection sparks and an affair begins, but when Ian starts to step back up, Kevin is not willing to step down.

Director Anthony DiBlasi and writers Bruce Wood & Scott Poiley may not stray far from the template, but they do a fine job of not making the characters one-dimensional or the situation absurd. Everybody, even Kevin, does what they do for reasons that seem logical enough from their point of view, and situations escalate to the unreasonable by reasonable means. Only once or twice do things happen just to move the story to the next level of crazy - the rapidly introduced and attacked oncologist who tended to Katherine's mother is obviously a means to an end, but otherwise this core of characters makes a good engine.

The cast playing them is well-assembled and deployed too. Dawn Olivieri does a better job threading the needle that this character represents than many actresses with a similar job; Katherine's got to be young and inexperienced enough to get in trouble but mature enough to know better, and she does well playing out the scenes that put her at risk without making the character unsympathetic as well as taking action without being at all fearless. Mitch Ryan, meanwhile, pulls off making Kevin quite insane without either ranting or going chilly, the sort of maniac who doesn't understand just why this isn't obvious to everyone else. Everyone's the hero of his own story, and Ryan does a good job of reminding the audience of this fact. Beyond the main two, Kip Pardue and Connor Christie his the right notes as the rest of Katherine's family (Pardue actually sells one of the movie's best scenes more or less on his own), while Jordan Woods-Robinson and J. LaRose make Kevin's partner and Katherine's boss at an auto salvage yard memorable in not a lot of time.

The filmmakers elect for a slow burn, and it serves them well - they never really force themselves to go to ridiculous places to top the last scene, so that things which would cause people nasty injuries are still worthy of fear. There's not a whole lot of blood - DiBlasi is actually quite good at shocking with surprise versus nasty make-up - but what is there is used effectively. The climax is exciting and makes a lot of sense as it's staged, rather than necessarily hitting the beats one might expect from the location.

Another way the filmmakers avoid some expected beats is with how they handle the characters' religion. They actually manage to be fairly respectful most of the time; even the moments when a non-Mormon audience might think it sounds weird (and there's really no getting around "populating our planet with spirit children for all eternity" not sounding a bit strange to the rest of us), it's not used to make other characters wary. A little more information might have been nice, though - the way missions are set up could be a big factor in how Kevin and Alan act, and it's not common enough knowledge for the general audience to not explain why characters are doing certain things.

That's sort of a minor issue, though, not enough to cause anybody to recommend skipping "Missionary". It's a pretty good stalker movie, and in a genre where people can often be lazy or just not as creative as they think they are, getting this much right is a breath of fresh air.

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