The terrible film Acolytes could have been a disturbing, claustrophobic thriller. Its intriguing premise features three troubled teens, a threatening assailant, and a cleverer, more malevolent presence. While the opening sequence features the cliché “girl running through forest from pursuer,” its lovely color scheme, jolting edits, and surreal pacing suggest a more affective film than what follows. The audience then encounters three teenagers who skip school and smoke weed. It is unclear why Chasely (Hanna Mangan-Lawrence) prefers the mouthy James (Joshua Payne) to their friend Mark (Sebastian Gregory). Perhaps the confusion arises from the fact that these characters are poorly realized and dully acted. Chasely spends the film staring blankly into space as she listens to music (the movie has a strong indie soundtrack), screaming and crying when the occasion arises (she is a girl, after all), and looking sexy. James is obnoxious and callous, and Mark, our ostensible protagonist, might be the most uninteresting of the lot. They stumble upon a body and wonder if it is connected to Gary Parker (Michael Dorman), a young ex-con who attacked them when they were kids.
One minute characters freak out at some horrific development, the next they are inexplicably composed, speaking in their usual, expressionless voices. The highlight of the film, other than its beautiful, high-contrast cinematography, is Joel Edgerton’s calm serial killer Ian Wright. His physical appearance is entirely unimaginative (how many movies feature psychos who wear glasses, tuck in their shirts, and sport bland expressions?), but we see flashes of intelligence and habitual sadism. Because this murderer is more interesting than the three leads, any connection with or threat he poses to them drums up little suspense. The ostensibly intense conclusion contains a jarring shock that makes no sense. The film’s potential is ruined by a narrative that is beyond jumbled, tediously paced, and unconvincingly acted.