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The House of Salem

There's quite a skill set involved in being a cult member. Not only do you have to know all the esoteric details of whatever dark lord your group wants to summon / worship, you've also got to keep on top of the necessary blood offerings without attracting unwanted attention from the authorities. The evil crew in The House of Salem has the perfect solution to the latter problem, however: they outsource the acquisition of their next sacrificial child to a group of criminals who think they're just doing a standard kidnapping-for-hire.

The victim is a 12-year-old boy named Josh (Liam Kelly), still traumatized by the deaths of his parents and brother and being raised by his suspiciously young-looking aunt and uncle (Anna Nightingale and Andrew Lee Potts). Then Jacob (Les Mills) arrives with his team, complete with scary clown masks, and spirit Josh away, making sure no one is seriously hurt. Jacob, at least, is a professional about these things. Unfortunately Paul (Danny Szam) is kind of a creep while Mick (Robert Lowe) is just a thug.

But there's also Nancy (Jessica Arterton), not much older than Josh, who is immediately protective of him. Teenage computer expert Jack (Jack Brett Anderson) also doesn't seem comfortable with even threats of violence, though Nancy insists that Jacob just puts on a very good scary clown act. That in itself is a big warning sign, I would think. But Jacob does manage to keep everyone in line -- at least until strange things start happening and the group begins to realize this might not be such an easy payday.

Certainly Josh himself is a strange one. He talks to a toy lamb called St. Peter which apparently knows an awful lot considering it's a plush toy. Also, he seems to know where the group is taking him before they get there, and is terrified of the old mansion, property of the criminals' mysterious client (Steve Williams). Nancy, herself haunted by visions of her dead mother, also doesn't like the feel of the house. Soon the rest of the crew is forced to agree, when they inevitably clash with the cultists and must defend their victim -- and themselves -- from people far worse than they are.

I'll give it four out of five. It offers a good twist on the cult genre and the supernatural side is deftly handled, heightening the physical conflict between kidnappers and devil-worshippers. The script is solid and though the cast is primarily young they carry the film capably, bringing us to a tantalizing ending. The movie does gloss over some details -- which is perhaps for the best in regards to things like previous rituals -- but it's an excellent watch. And it just goes to show you how much effort you can save with a little outside the box thinking.

Image: 
Jacob and crew. He really does give a frighteningly good evil clown performance.

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