Don’t let the clean white shirt, the friendly demeanor and the Jesus-loving lingo fool you. The next Mormon knocking at your door could turn out to be a home-wrecking psychopath — at least, according to “Missionary,” a luridly entertaining thriller that plays like “Fatal Attraction” for extreme religiophobes, or perhaps a very gory episode of “The Brigham Young and the Restless.” Following his Clive Barker adaptation “Dread” and his ’60s horror tribute “Cassadaga,” director Anthony DiBlasi continues his string of indie freakouts with this cautionary tale of a wife and mother who finds that her Book of Mormon-thumping boyfriend is anything but a saint, Latter-Day or otherwise. Released Oct. 31, the Freestyle/Orchard quickie could turn a quick buck in limited-theatrical and VOD play.
Separated from her unfaithful husband, Ian (Kip Pardue), Central Florida resident Katherine (Dawn Olivieri) has her hands full working a blue-collar job and looking after their 11-year-old boy, Kesley (Connor Christie). Mother and son are throwing around a football one afternoon when they’re visited by two bicycle-riding Mormon missionaries: the nerdy Elder Whitehall (Jordan Woods-Robinson) and the handsome Elder Brock (Mitch Ryan). While Katherine is none too receptive to their message of faith, a friendship is immediately forged when Elder Brock, aka Kevin, helps Kesley with a few football plays, bending a rule that strictly prohibits Mormons from engaging in sports while on mission. That’s a minor violation compared with what happens next.
Falling head over heels in lust with Kevin, Katherine takes advantage of their next accidental encounter to impulsively seduce the young missionary, who proves surprisingly compliant. Indeed, while we’ve seen Kevin diligently praying and running through Scripture verses with Elder Whitehall, he turns out to have a decidedly non-rigid interpretation of God’s will, which apparently doesn’t forbid fornication under any and all circumstances (their first sex scene is filmed in jagged “Unfaithful”-style flashbacks, seen from Katherine’s half-guilty, half-delighted perspective). More disturbingly, Kevin becomes convinced that he, Katherine and Kesley are destined to be sealed as a “celestial family” for all eternity. Needless to say, he doesn’t take it too well when a repentant Ian returns to the fold, and Katherine decides to give their marriage a second chance.
Taken strictly as a Cinemax-grade potboiler, “Missionary” is often a hoot, and more effective than it has any right to be. No bunnies get boiled, and the family dog makes it through mercifully unscathed; the same can’t be said for the others, who commit the grave error of assuming that Kevin, with his man-of-God masquerade, is essentially harmless. DiBlasi tightens the screws capably enough, and Olivieri, Pardue and Christie make a touching trio of sitting ducks while Ryan turns his hunky Mormon Bates act up to 11. Needless to say, given its portrait of truly warped extremism, its hallucinatory baptismal climax and one scene that sickeningly harks back to the LDS Church’s pre-1978 racial attitudes (is it a coincidence that the first initials of Kevin’s coveted family add up to “KKK”?), the movie is unlikely to score many fans among the faithful.
At the same time, the psychothriller machinations are too generic and too over-the-top to be seriously construed as an out-and-out attack on religious belief, and to their credit, producer-scribes Bruce Wood and Scott Poiley draw a clear line between this deviant predator and his chosen faith — representatives of which are shown severing ties with Kevin once his dangerous pattern of behavior become clear. And there’s at least one sequence that manages to be at once genuinely rousing and fairly disturbing for entirely different reasons, as Ian and his buddies give Kevin a taste of some rough local justice. DiBlasi’s movie may not be especially flattering toward Mormons, but it’s not exactly a love letter to Florida, either.