Bleep a few profanities and trim the fleeting nudity, and “Follow the Prophet” would pass muster as an above-average Lifetime made-for-cabler. Destined for VOD and homevid consumption after brief theatrical play, this indie drama might well attract viewers with its high-concept, if stomach turning, scenario (loosely based on stranger-than-fiction real-life events) about an attempted escape from a Utah-based cult that promotes ritualistic underage marriages, demands total fealty to an authoritative Prophet — and gives a man license to have sex with his offspring.
With: Robert Chimento, Diane Venora, Annie Burgstede, John Diehl, Tom Noonan, David Conrad, R.D. Call, Steve Railsback.
Newcomer Annie Burgstede stars as Avery Colden, the spirited 16-year-old daughter of a cult-faithful family who runs away from home before she can be deflowered by her father (David Conrad of TV’s “The Ghost Whisperer”) or bequeathed as another child bride to the cult’s charismatic and politically well-connected Prophet (Tom Noonan). On the run, Avery fortuitously connects with a protector — Lt. Col. Jude Marks (scripter Robert Chimento) — who’s recovering from the recent loss of his own daughter, a solider killed while serving in Afghanistan.
Helmer Drew Ann Rosenberg generates mild suspense as Avery and Jude — and a local cop (Diane Venora) with her own grudge against the Prophet — try to draw public attention to the cult’s abuses. And while some viewers may feel the pic overall is a tad too timid, Rosenberg’s tasteful restraint is a major plus during potentially icky scenes that place Avery in jeopardy.
Performances are for the most part more earnestly effective than emotionally compelling. But Conrad stands out as a perversely fascinating wildcard: By shrewdly underplaying rather than underscoring the obvious, he makes his self-justifying cultist all the more skin-crawlingly creepy.
Despite obviously budgetary limitations, pic is efficiently crafted.