Messiah of Evil

3 out of 5

Directed by: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz

The utter surreality and relative plotlessness of this film is all to its benefit for its mesmerizing initial hour or so, allowing Arletty (Marianna Hill) to cohabitate with some drifters (played by Michael Greer, Joy Bang, and Alita Ford) while searching a seaside town in California for her missing father, and not demanding much of that arrangement: we can wander in and out of a brilliantly designed set – wall-to-wall murals of ominous townspeople, painted by said missing father, surrounding an odd hammock-like bed – while zombie-like locals are cut to, wandering the streets with pale faces and red-limned eyes, and occasional voiceover pipes in from Arletty, or a narrator, letting us in on dad’s slowly-maddened behaviors, or the odd rituals of the town… But eventually, as writers / directors Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz try to wrap the vaguely Lovecraftian ominousness into something with purpose, things get very clunky, and unfortunately indicative of both the low budget, and a likely desire to avoid some more typical horror indulgences. On the one hand, the suggestiveness of the storytelling style this necessitates – where sex is there, but also on the fringes, and not leered at; where death happens, but in a murky, never-spoken-of fashion – is what gives the movie such a unique vibe at first, but it also makes the 90 minute runtime feel like a bit of a stretch, essentially repeating some plot cycles wholesale with each of its characters, before drawing to a close which is moderately unsatisfying because of the constraints / restraints, as though once committing to this particular style, Huyck and Katz decided it had to run through the whole picture, robbing it of much of a beginning, middle, or end structure.

Still, the locations / production design and dotting of giallo-esque colors / lighting make for quite wondrous visuals throughout, and the off-beat patter of the actors combines with the aforementioned mercurial nature of the movie pleasingly. One that is very interesting on a first view, and then likely better on subsequent views, watched as more of an art piece than a start-to-finish story.