The synopsis is not easy to articulate, nor is the film itself, as it revolves around Dalia (Saara Lamberg), a woman rescued from a pagan apocalyptic cult on the night of a sacrificial ritual, leaving her two sisters behind. Several years later, overwrought with guilt, she sets about finding the cult and, in turn, her sisters. Her inquisition leads her to a mysterious and infamous black metal musician, Moloch (Albert Goikhman), who lives burrowed beneath a dense forrest, hours from civilisation. His cryptic and imperious rhetoric sends Dalia on a hellish descent in to depravity and madness, as her world becomes a grotesque regression of ritual, death and depravity.
I'll be honest and state for the record that I was baffled by CULT GIRLS. I am uncertain what it was about, and I don't understand what Bakaitis is trying to say. And I'm not sure that it matters, because at the end of the day he has projected a gothic tapestry on the screen that provides ample food for thought and an all immersive atmosphere. He presents his story with layers of shade and relishes the various depths of darkness he's able to submerge the audience in. Like a bastard child of Eraserhead and Häxan, his visceral expression is more important than whatever narrative he's telling.
The content is often confronting and while not quite as explicit as Jonas Åkerlund's recent Lords of Chaos, CULT GIRLS occupies the same sphere. With a deep goth sensibility the film plays out like an extended music video, and polarises the audience with its ambiguity. Some will relish its rich textures and sense of style, while others will reject the incoherent narrative. Lamberg gives a captivating turn as Dalia, playing amongst the atmosphere with her own mysterious sense of elusiveness and mystique. Goikhman gleefully assumes his reaper-like rockstar persona with relish and delivers an uncharacteristically sombre performance. Additional players include Jane Badler as the high witch, Dean Kirkright as Dalia's companion and Whitney Duff as the Fire Pagan. It is an ensemble of familiar local faces and all are good.
Even now as I write this review and attempt to comprehend its underlying themes and messages, I struggle to arrive at a comprehensive conclusion. I hesitate to compare the film to Argento's Three Mothers Trilogy, because CULT GIRLS is nowhere near that calibre of artistry, but I think there's a reasonable semblance. Mark Bakaitis is a unique artisan with an unmistakable mind for imagery, and where his new film struggles to form a comprehensive narrative, it compensates with style and expression. It may or may not resonate with people right now, but perhaps it will – to its advantage – garner a niche and loyal following in the years to come.