It might seem deranged to wish that a movie like THE BELIEVERS would follow its twisted course until the bitter end, seeing as how the horror at its center is the murder of children as part of a ritualistic Santería sacrifice. But John Schlesinger’s bleak thriller, based on the novel The Religion by Nicholas Conde, utilizes one of those cheap fake-outs where we witness all of the villains meeting their gory demises during the climax only to discover that evil was masquerading under the guise of one of our heroes in the stinger finale. The outcome is no less damning, but think of how grueling an experience this would have been had the narrative never wavered from its ultimate end point. The peaceful breaker that shows police psychologist Martin Sheen living the good life on a sunny farm only to find that the darkness he has tried to elude is actually right behind him doesn’t increase the terror by juxtaposition but actually dampens it. However, the picture does boast an uneasy, doomed atmosphere in its best moments when it isn’t playing DR. PHIBES with the gimmick deaths, greatly aided by J. Peter Robinson’s constantly churning score and the grotty urban locale. It even manages to take what at first appears to be a simplistic “dark people do dark magic” approach and inverts it by revealing the true villains to be the petty upper crust who in a pinch would prefer to sacrifice their own offspring over a life of leisure.

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