Monday, September 19, 2016

Pretty Little Repressed Homosexuals

I make no excuses for my love of Lifetime movies. With rare exception, they are usually a guaranteed 90 minutes worth of overacting, unnecessary melodrama, beautiful kitchens, unfinished sets, femme fatales, evil men, inept police officers, and occasionally, insane Eric Robertses. These are all beautiful, beautiful things that rarely leave me bored.

When you take that formula and toss in the keyword "cults," you're somewhat ensured a winner around these parts.

Quick Plot: Melissa, a loyal member of the Church of the Blessed Heart, has committed suicide, much to the shock of her friends and congregation. Suspicion quickly falls on her husband Daniel, a self-appointed prophet who has spent the last few years training a portion of his bible study group for what he believes to be the imminent second coming.

Things get more serious when Adam, one of Melissa and Daniel's friends and fellow cult--er, yeah, we'll just say cult members is brought to the police station by the head of the Church of the Blessed Heart to spill the truth about Melissa's death. Considering Adam is the type of guy who dresses like the character of Mark in Rent but goes to bed with his collared shirt buttoned up to his throat, we know he's a tad unstable.

The film backtracks to show the formation of Daniel's mini-cult-within-a-cult. Having met at a Christian college, Daniel, Melissa, Adam, and a few other white people moved to the church's big southern compound after graduation to devote their lives to preparing for the apocalypse. Charismatic, ambitious, and more than a little sexually repressed, Daniel took it upon himself to start his own faction that followed some tweaked rules from the rest of his congregation. Rotating fastings, the occasional shunning, and systematic cuddling became the norm. Secret gay sex became, at least for Daniel, the reward.

Meanwhile, Melissa gave up her once promising writing path to support Daniel in the hopes that he would eventually share her own prophecy of marriage. Despite seeming to be a little smarter than most of her brainwashed peers, Melissa can't seem to see/accept the fact that the only thing Daniel loves more than the ideas of Kirk Cameron is, quite possibly, the idea of having sex with Kirk Cameron.

Ungodly Acts is not quite your average Lifetime thriller. For starters, there's nary a straight love story to be found, which is quite refreshing. It's rare that a Lifetime film actively focuses on a gay man, but that's absolutely the case in Ungodly Acts. The film doesn't shy away from his sexuality, even as the character certainly wishes it would.

Unfortunately, it does shy away from other items of importance, including WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. The film takes an odd turn in its final act, throwing a twist with not just a whodunit, but a didnthappenit. I think. Or it just bypasses the villainy of the awful (but at least justifiably confused Daniel) for the bigger issue of the church's corporate board. I. Think.

Directed by Carl Bessai, Ungodly Acts is fairly forgettable, in part because the quality is good enough that one can't actively laugh at the typical silliness that comes standard with the Lifetime brand. At the same time, when it tries to step outside its TV movie limitations (see Low Point), it comes dangerously close to those glorious levels of excess a cheesehound like myself longs for. It's ultimately a little too good for a really good time and too not good for a genuine good time.

It makes sense, trust me. 

High Points
It would have been very easy for Ungodly Acts to turn its earnest Christian characters into caricatures, but the film makes a respectable effort to not just paint its cast as  one-note sheep. Melissa, Adam, Daniel, and Daniel's first shunning target all come across as real people with different pasts that might leave them so vulnerable to a toxic way of life

Low Points
Look, I appreciate ambition in a Lifetime movie, but the "Adam is crazy so we're going to film in black-and-white close-ups" trick felt unnecessary and annoying

Lessons Learned
Lack of sleep can damage a man's prophetic senses

A woman's heart does not have enough room for both prayer and creative writing

The crazier you get, the more southern your previously region-less accent may sound

Look! It's -
Brant Daugherty, best known as the devious and gloriously named Noel Khan from Pretty Little Liars, fully inhabiting the role of a closeted messiah-in-the-making

Ungodly Acts showed up in front of my eyeballs on cable, which made it more than suitable entertainment for a lazy afternoon. I wouldn't necessarily recommend investing much time or energy into seeking it out, but if it falls into your lap, you might find yourself intrigued enough to follow it through. But really, only if you dig cult stuff. Or Noel Kahn. 


  1. This is all Ripped from the Headlines:

    1. Thanks for sharing! I'm quite curious about this, so I'm going to read this during my occasional group dinner fast.