Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
"Guyana-Cult of the Damned" has crawled out from under a rock and into local theaters, and will do nicely as this week's example of the depths to which people will plunge in search of a dollar. The movie is a gruesome version of the Jonestown massacre of 1978, so badly written and directed it illustrates a simple rule of movie exhibition: If a film is nauseating and reprehensible enough in the first place, it doesn't matter how badly it's made - people will go anyway.
The film was produced, directed and co-written by one René Cardona, whose credits in the movie's press release portray him as a ghoulish retailer of human misery. He is the producer of "Survival," about the cannibalism of the Andes survivors, and of "The Bermuda Triangle," and now of the disquieting story of the Guyana massacre. "At least 15 film producers went after the story," the release says, "but Cardona got there first."
Good old Cardona. He got there first with a film that mixes fact, fiction and speculation with complete indifference, and which contains an amazing absence of any real curiosity about the bizarre deaths in Jonestown. It presents them as a horror story, but it doesn't really probe for reasons or motivations.
"This story is true," we're promised at the outset. "Only the names have been changed." The story may be true, but the research sure isn't original; the screenplay seems to have been written at typing speed and based on wire service stories of the massacre. The movie's held together with a voice-over narration (handy if you're planning to dub into several languages), and the characters are almost always seen from the outside: We get no scenes attempting to probe the personalities of the cult members.