Alice Eve and Antonio Banderas star in Cult Killer, a throwback to the serial killer thrillers of the 1990s that’s predictable and ridiculous but divertingly entertaining.
Found at kiosks and book shops in airports are certain types of novels, sold for specific qualities that lend them to being easily ingested while on a long flight or during down time on a beach. This sort of work has come to be referred to as airport novels: they are heavy with a pulpy and sensational plot full of twists and turns, and written in a simple and easy prose. Airport novels are engrossing to read, but don’t take a whole lot of brain power. Examples of airport novels include the work of John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, and Danielle Steel.
Cult Killer, a new movie directed by John Keeyes, is a filmed version of the airport novel. I cannot point out any redeeming qualities, except to say that I was never bored by Cult Killer. Saddled with an unbearably silly title that does little to convey the tone of the movie, it is a lurid, ridiculous, fast-paced, and diverting story about a female private detective tracking down the murderer of her mentor. If Cult Killer had been made in the 1990s, it would have fit in perfectly and played in constant rotation on TBS on Saturday Afternoons. It is not as good as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Silence of the Lambs, but it’s better than Along Came a Spider and as good as The Bone Collector.
The plot of Cult Killer is pure pulp, cobbled together from a shelf of thriller tropes and conveniences. Alice Eve stars as Cassie Holt, a young woman healing after years of horrific trauma in a small United Kingdom village. While working at a pub she befriends Mikhail Tellini (a warm and charismatic Antonio Banderas), a private detective. The two form a mentor-mentee relationship, with Cassie drawn by Tellini’s kindness and ability to defend himself.
No sooner has Cassie become a private detective herself than Tellini is found dead, stabbed in broad daylight outside himself. As any self-respecting main character of a thriller would do, she sets out to bring justice and find the murderer herself. Rather soon into the investigation, Cassie comes into contact with the mysterious murderer (Shelly Hennig), and the two develop a relationship that’s a little more interesting than the usual detective-and-killer mutual obsession, one based on their womanhood and shared trauma. As Cassie delves deeper into the mystery she discovers the secrets in the small, bucolic town point All the Way to the Top.
Cult Killer is predictable and more than a little preposterous, but it leans into those qualities and becomes something close to a cartoon. The movie is a patchwork quilt made out of the most exciting parts of Plucky Woman on the Trail of a Serial Killer Thrillers: Trauma, The Superior Officer Who is Angry and Wants Her Off the Case, Finding of Dead Body in Abandoned Building By Flashlight, Flimsy Connections Between Clues, Murder Scenes Designed by a Decorator – It’s all here. There’s a feeling that the team behind Cult Killer would be disappointed to cut any of these elements. Cult Killer is trash, but it knows it’s trash, and that self-knowledge lets the audience into the story. The filmmakers and the audience are here for the same thing and that’s to watch a woman work her way through contrived clues to catch a serial killer.
Cult Killer will be released in US theaters on January 19, 2024.