The CW's new series Cult has a premise that layers creepy over more creepy to create a twisted plotline in which you’re never quite certain what’s real and what’s fiction. The show within a show about a dangerous cult has a dangerous cult following of its own – and this is a following unlike anything even the most rabid TV viewer has ever known.
Created by Rockne S. O'Bannon, Cult opens with a scene from the fictional series by the same name in which a detective (Alona Tal) is searching for her missing sister and nephew; she believes they have been taken by a cult to which she once belonged. In quick succession we meet one of the show’s rabid fans, Nate (James Pizzinato), and then a young researcher who works on the set, Skye (Jessica Lucas). Skye suspects there’s something more to some of the fan sites out there, while Nate appears to know it for certain; he reaches out to his brother Jeff (Matt Davis) in fear for his life and then disappears, leaving behind a bloody chair and cryptic clues.
Cult’s opening episode quickly brings together the investigative team of Jeff and Skye, who meet when Jeff visits the set of the show attempting to reach its elusive creator. The creepiness mounts by the minute as the episode alternates between scenes from the show and a seeming parallel in real life, with Jeff and Skye mirroring the investigation on the TV show. The only thing to break through the dark and eerie feeling of the show is the difficult-to-swallow ease with which Skye falls into the role of detective, eager to put her life in danger for a complete stranger and appearing unshaken by a suicide right in front of her. Which is not to say the rest of the plot is entirely believable, but its surreal feeling generally works otherwise.
The comparisons to The Following are inevitable, and certainly the two shows have a few concepts in common. I suspect though that going forward Cult will differentiate itself. Time will also prove whether or not the show can maintain the intensity without losing credibility, or leaving viewers too confused. Already the mystery appears to be several layers deep, with hints that even the police might be involved; leaving us with the question of whether the show inspired a cult or might in fact be the brainchild of one.
All in all, Cult is the kind of show that leaves the viewer entrenched and curious enough to want to find out what happens next. Keeping that feeling episode after episode will be the big challenge.
Cult airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST on the CW, and premieres Tuesday February 19th, but you can watch the first episode online here as well.