Director: Mark Bakaitis
Umbrella Entertainment

Australia looks to the old country for a DTV stab at folk horror with CULT GIRLS, on DVD from Umbrella Entertainment.

Rescued by chance during a police raid on the Golden Path cult – a supposed back-to-nature movement run by charismatic Lithuanian exile Ragana (Jane Badler of both the original and reboot of V) that made its money through prostitution and human trafficking – and raised as an orphan in an Australian convent, Daalia (Saara Lamberg) feels guilty that she has not kept her promise to find her two younger sisters Laima and Marija who were taken with Ragana who was shot during the raid. Leaving the convent to do charitable work among the city's poor, Daalia finds herself psychically drawn to the mysterious death metal artist Moloch (Albert Goikhman) who lives as a hermit in the woods preaching his mission to wipe Christianity from the Earth. With the help of deadhead Johnny (Brendan Bacon), Daalia searches for Moloch's lair hoping that he can provide answers to the fates of her sisters, unaware that Ragana's followers mean to use her in a rebirthing ceremony of their leader.

Often visually-striking and hypnotically-scored with Lithuanian folk music, CULT GIRLS ultimately does nothing new with the folk horror template of an innocent being lured into taking part in an ancient ceremony as a victim of sacrifice or possession; it just goes about it in a manner that is not so much nonlinear as incoherent. On the commentary track, music video director Mark Bakaitis mentions having watched the film hundreds of times during editing, and that may be perhaps why his flashy attempt at telling the story might seem innovative to him but tiresome to viewers of this eighty minute film which seems to drag on and on with extended flashbacks depicting the fates of the grown Laima (Kayla Moon) who followed the cult to Berlin to infiltrate their prostitution ring and Marija (Regan Moriarty) who went to Lithuania – the last European country to be converted to Christianity – where girls could be found who still practiced pagan ways. The ending twists are not remotely surprising and the film's nudity and sexual content feels in no way was transgressive as that of Jess Franco or Jean Rollin (both of whom the director namechecks) or even remotely as prurient as that of less stylistically and thematically ambitious films. Apart from Badler (and possibly Bacon), the acting is flat, but the set design is occasionally eye-catching, and the photography is often attractive and atmospheric (particularly during the Lithuanian unit shoot).

Currently only available on DVD in Australia – although it is on American streaming services – CULT GIRLS is given a serviceable anamorphic PAL 2.35:1 encode in standard definition with fairly stable blacks (of which there are plenty), good-looking low light scenes, and relatively noise-free despite some fashionable contrasty digital color grading. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is no demo track but it goes the job done with clear dialogue, some directional effects, and surrounds that give spread to the scoring, some heavy metal music, and some subtle atmosphere (most scenes scale back the ambient sounds for effect).

The film is accompanied by an audio commentary by director Mark Bakaitis and casting director Nathan Hill who have collaborated in the past on shorts and music videos. Bakaitis' remarks on the story and its stylistic inspirations are less interesting than the pair's discussion of the Melbourne music and independent film scene, noting that some of the lead actors have also written and directed their own low budget films and noting the prolific film and TV work of some of the actors who might not be recognizable by your average Ozploitation fan. The making-of featurette (25:47) which is of interest for quite a bit of unused footage from the film and clarifying Daalia's psychic connection to Moloch which is less apparent in the film itself. The disc also includes the 1993 short film MERCY KILLS and two music videos directed by Bakaitis (one featuring Badler). The disc cover lists the film as being Region 4 but it is not region-coded. (Eric Cotenas)