In today’s modern, self-declared sophisticated age people in the Western world seem to consider it fashionable not merely to proclaim that theological principles do not dictate their lives, but to openly scoff at the very notion of practicing religion. That said, applying the word of an all powerful deity to better oneself most certainly does not sound like a laughing matter and probably is not for the actual people who embrace the concept. Misinterpretation of ‘infallible’ texts however can lead to many an ugly scene, as brutally exemplified in Anthony DiBlasi’s Missionary.
Katherine (Dawn Olivieri) is a single mother working at a car repair lot, trying to keep things afloat for herself and son Kesley (Connor Christie). Divorced from her husband (Kip Pardue) , the latter is nevertheless making genuine attempts at patching things up as best he can. One day, two missionaries from the church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints arrive at Katherine’s home as she pitifully helps her son practice his football skills. From that encounter Elder Brock (Mitch Ryan), a handsome, kind, well cut young man forms a bond with Kesley and Katherine. He and Catherine even begin a fling, although because of what happened in Brock’s past, he begins to believe that he may have found a new family where he belongs, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
Where an unfortunate quantity of thriller and slasher movies lose their way is in their latter halves. At the outset, they may have a pertinent idea or two percolating in the foundations of the script, only to embrace cliches in the second half so as to satisfy the hunger of movie goers hoping for some more familiar thriller tactics. Such is the single most critical issue preventing director DiBlasi’s Missionary from reaching the heights it might otherwise have. As it stands, it is a perfectly effective thriller with a compelling if slightly ludicrous premise that fails to ultimately deliver anything of consequence.
It should be noted that the performances from the two leads, Dawn Olivieri and Mitch Ryan, are really quite good. Olivieri has a way of playing a mother who, despite being dragged down by the fatigue and stress resulting from juggling so many important obligations (raising a child, work, studies), is still a fairly positive minded, good natured person. The hustle and bustle of her complicated life have not completely beaten her spirit into submission and her ray of decency is a much needed aspect to making the picture’s family angle as compelling as it is. Mitch Ryan, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. A clean cut (or so the viewer is led to believe initially), honest and willingly helpful person who only wants to do what he firmly is right, most of which emanates from the word of god. Not in any obliquely uncomfortable way, but rather as an innocent looking man trying to provide others with a bit of guidance. His transformation from helpful role model to psychotic stalker, script weaknesses notwithstanding, is believable because of Ryan’s talent as an actor.
Credit where credit is due. Good performance can carry a movie a long, long way and they very much do in the case of Missionary. However silly the concept of the movie is, it finds ways to work properly as best it can for a decent portion of the running time. When Brock reveals that he too has a sad past and that the people at the church have provided him with a guiding light, his desire to assist others in trouble is understandable. When the two engage in is clearly wrong, especially from the viewpoint of the church and few would argue otherwise. It is interesting to note more that Catherine, not Brock, is the instigator of their passionate affair. Infact, Brock never really shows explicit desires of wanting to do what Katherine so desperately seeks. In some way, she is responsible for what follows, for awakening in Brock a new, bastardized sense of purpose heightened out of a misunderstood passage from the bible.
From there erupts a harrowing episode wherein Brock is completely obsessed with taking Katherine and Kesley for himself to build a new family out of the ashes of the one he lost many years ago. Purely in terms of filmmaking, the art of constructing solid scenes of situational suspense, Anthony DiBlasi proves his worth. There are, once again strictly from the viewpoint of someone looking for well made chills, a handful of effective scenes. The problem is the script and its forsaking of the initially bold concept of a missionary who loses his way mostly because of a woman who failed to repress her sexual inhibitions (which itself is a great faith based concept to explore in a movie). That entire idea is utterly forgone in service of the thriller genre and nothing more. Additionally, there are some preposterous, head scratching explanations about how this may not be the first time Brock goes off the wall and why he has been able to retain his place within the church.
It is not as though Missionary becomes a bad movie in the final third, only one that is far less thought provoking or smart as during its fist two. Once scene involving Katherine’s ex-husband, his friends and its aftermath is so out of whack with what has come before that it clearly feels as though viewers are watching a different film entirely. As with the antagonist Brock, the movie should never have swayed away from its original text.