It’s not a cult. It’s America. A family man returns to his hometown to discover he’s the last person in town who’s not part of a legendary pyramid scheme. And everyone– EVERYONE– wants him in.
Career editor Kevin Oeser takes the director’s chair and goes full on ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ as a cult-like company (not Amway. Definitely not Amway) does its best to rope in long-time hold out Peter (Brian Huskey) into becoming one of their representatives after his parents pass away. Oeser as writer and director of the film highlights the often-disturbing level of commitment that people have to obvious pyramid schemes and their tendency to fuel the ascendance of the leaders of these organisations to almost God-like status.
Taking the form of wonderfully realised satire, this comedy thriller paces itself brilliantly, from the methodical opening moments establishing Peter and his family right through to the surprisingly tense finale. The influence and homages to classic genre movies is well in evidence here and Oesner wastes no time in creating an air of mystery around the stockpile of Dreamstar (remember, not Amway) products in Peter’s parents’ house. It is clear early on that this mystery will give way to something ominous, which in turn will give way to something terrifying, which it does primarily through the almost silent conversion of Peter’s wife Melissa (Janie Haddad Tompkins). As Peter starts to be put under more and more pressure to join Dreamstar, first by being offered his late parents’ “downline” in their will then with Melissa’s increasing insistence that they take advantage of this “great opportunity” we are treated to the brilliant manner in which Oesar is able to extract both tension and comedy from the ‘something strange going on with the townfolk’ concept that has been utilised (and satirised) many times before.
A particularly great source of entertainment in this film comes in the form of Lexi Ainsworth’s Kathy. As Peter’s perennially distracted daughter, Ainsworth simultaneously undercuts and enhances the tension by being so preoccupied with social media that she masters the art of being oblivious to all of the strange developments occurring around her. By being glued to her phone while creepy neighbours show up unannounced or attendees at the climactic funeral scene have their eyes locked firmly on Peter, she not only instigates humour by being so blasé but also brings about the unsettling suggestion that Peter may be alone in the impending confrontation against the whole town.
Whether knowingly or not, Oeser has constructed a fascinating insight into the perversion of the American dream. This thoroughly tongue-in-cheek story highlights companies that prey on moderately successful hard working people and convince them that they hold the keys to the great life that they have always deserved. The masterful power of suggestion that the leaders of these organisations possess is staggeringly frightening, making a satirical horror a perfect vessel for this concept. With so many people willing to swallow such an obvious and destructive lie, what else can such naïve behavior be, except hilarious? And what else can the final outcome be, but terrifying?
Studio: Kevin Oeser
Duration: 14 mins
Director: Kevin Oeser
Writer: Kevin Oeser