SCREENED AT THE 2005 BOSTON FANTASTIC FILM FESTIVAL: I suspect that the dialogue in this 2005 version of "Trapped by the Mormons" is taken nearly verbatim from the original 1922 film apparently aimed at keeping the Latter-Day Saints out of Britain. I don't know how effective it was as propaganda, but if what I suspect is true, then it was probably an unintentional camp classic. This new edition is TRYING for the camp effect, but is much more successful than most films that take that route.
The story mirrors that of the original - young Manchester lady Nora Prescott (Emily Riehl-Bedford) is engaged to be married, but sinister Mormon recruiter Isoldi Keane (Johnny Kat) uses his incredible powers of Mesmerism on her, luring her away from her paralytic father with the intent of adding her to his hare - after all, not only is polygamy allowed by Mormonism, it's mandatory, even if Isoldi's wife Sadie (Monique LaForce) is traveling as his sister. But Nora's fiancˇ Jim (Brent Lowder) hasn't given up, and along with a detective late of Scotland Yard, plots to rescue her.
From the description, it's easy to infer a hateful movie that spreads prejudice, but eighty years of time have dulled the effect of the message. It's like "No Irish Need Apply" signs; we recognize it as foolish, ignorant bigotry, but these are people so integrated into society with no ill effects. Besides, the depiction of the Mormon villains is utterly absurd - Keane literally hypnotizes women, his sidekicks kill and eat the flesh of those who would stand in their way, baptism turns innocent girls into vicious zombies, and... well, trust me, the end is even more hilariously ridiculous. And how seriously can you take a movie made in 2005 with no color or sound?
The movie isn't perfect, of course. It often seems to be trying to make a silent movie from a sound script, with two screens worth of intertitles for some characters' lines, and seemingly every bit of dialogue captioned. This may be being done for parodic effect, but it rings false, since most silent films I've watched tend to be more economical with their words. I found myself really wanting to hear tone of voice for these lines, even though we get some sense of that from watching the delivery.
That's mostly in the first half, though; as the movie goes on, and the Mormons become more and more depraved while the situation becomes more blackly comic, it becomes easier to laugh. Writer-director Ian Allen seems to catch on that it's not enough to point at 1920s stuff and say, oh, look how primitive the movie-making techniques and how backward the attitudes were - there actually has to be crazy, funny stuff going on too. He and his crew do a pretty remarkable job getting the period look down - with the notable exception that the digital video used is pretty much locked into 24 frames per second, and silent films were often filmed at multiple speeds - but their best work comes when that is allowed to recede into the background a bit, to act as context for the jokes and visual comedy.
And there's plenty of that. Part of it, of course, is the lurid nature and twenty-first century satire wedded to a medium we tend to think of as rather tame - parts are more Guy Maddin than F.W. Murnau - but Allen and company use the medium well, and once they've picked up steam, don't belabor the joke to death (the film is in the seventy-five minute range). The cast is up to their challenges: Ms. Riehl-Bedford, for instance, is a thoroughly believable twenties ingenue, while Johnny Kat is a perfectly scenery-chewing villain. Brent Lowder's part is mostly played by his mustache, but it's a really fine mustache. Now, if we actually had to hear these people speak, maybe it wouldn't be so impressive, but they are perfect for the task at hand.
Which is to make the audience laugh, which they do right up through the post-credit "blooper". It's an affectionate parody, and as such sucks any ill-feeling right out.