Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Review: "Ticket to Heaven" (1981)

Other than a passion for film in general, one of the big reasons I write movie reviews for this blog is my desire to discuss smaller films most people have never heard of. I thank Greywizard over at The Unknown Movies website for inspiring me in this direction. While I enjoy adding my two cents to the reams of text written about "Spiderman 2", I am much more satisfied telling people about a nearly forgotten 70's thriller like "Juggernaut". Ideally, I'll be doing this blog for a long time, and I hope that my reviews of some of the more obscure titles will be found and valued by those searching the internet for scraps of information.

"Ticket to Heaven" is a film whose story focuses on a cult not unlike the disciples of Reverend Sun Myung Moon (aka the Moonies). David (Nick Mancuso) is a young man who has recently broken up with his girlfriend and is in need of some direction in his life. He goes on a trip to San Francisco to see his old friend Karl only to find him living in some sort of odd religious commune. David thinks they're basically harmless and goes to join them out in the countryside. Over a period of days, however, he is brainwashed and is soon cutting ties with his family and friends. In retaliation, his best friend leads a group who know and love him to steal him away from the cult and de-program him.

This is a film that takes its time and is all the better for it. In order to connect with this film, we need to (a) get to know and like David and (b) know in detail how he was brainwashed. We're with David every step of the way as he's deprived of sleep and led through endless and varied group activities. Little soundtrack music is used during these early segments and the camera creates the claustrophobic feelings that David must have felt being hemmed in on all sides by cult members. We feel as if we survived the process that David did not, and we are eager to bring him back as his friends go into action.

Nick Mancuso deserves credit for making the character, and thus the movie, work. His David is a tall and handsome young man, who, like many people his age, are without direction. It is a startling moment when we first see the converted David: His long hair is cut extremely short and his eyes are wide and smiling as if on a drug high. We also feel pain for him as he's put through the process of rejecting the cult and is administered the necessary tough love. Also memorable is R.H. Thomson, who plays expert deprogrammer Linc Strunc (love that name). When he arrives to treat David, he is in total command of the situation. He conveys the wisdom of someone who has been through this process so many times and knows the many bitter truths of those who have been turned.

You're not likely to recognize many faces in this film since it was a small Canadian production. The most obvious face is a very young Kim Cattrall, just one year before she made her memorable appearance in the first "Porky's" film, as one of the more enthusiastic cult members. Two other recognizable faces are character actors Saul Rubinek ("Unforgiven"), who plays David's best friend Larry, and Meg Foster ("They Live"), who plays leader of the commune Ingrid.

There are some minuses to this film. The group that seeks to deprogram David ranges from well established characters (like his best friend, his ex-girlfriend and his parents) to people that simply appear out of nowhere and are given no introduction, no lines and no personality. On the other hand, It's disappointing that David's friend Karl, who is the chief reason David was brainwashed, disappears entirely halfway through the film. There will also be people who scoff at the silliness of the rituals that the cult members perform. However, if you take into account the culture of the time and how some of our current self help language might read in twenty years, you're likely to be more forgiving.

The topic of cults and brainwashing is not a popular one in Hollywood. The last major film to deal with these subjects was Jane Campion's "Holy Smoke" in 1999. Admittedly, the audience for such a film is a limited one, and I would recommend this film only to people who are interested in the subject matter. The bright side is that those that are interested will find this film a compelling and satisfying character study.

Seven out of Ten

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, where did Karl go?