Religion, and particularly devil worship, are common themes to be found in horror cinema. Some of the genre's biggest classics such as The Exorcist, The Omen and Rosemary's Baby deal with themes of religion, Christian ideas of supernatural evil and Satanism. So is the case with the low-budget short film, The Cult. The short centers around a man from a small town who has lost the woman he loves, and with her his faith in all religion. As he proclaims several times during the short, "all religions are cults". As reports of animal sacrifices and painted pentagrams reach him through the news and warnings of one of his fellow townspeople, he soon begins to find signs that indicate these devil worshippers may be closer than he thinks.

Depictions of Satanic cults in horror films have certain common traits that repeat from film to film. Virgin and animal sacrifice, drinking blood, attempts to bring about the end of the world or the birth of the Antichrist... this kind of bloody and macabre behavior is ripe for horror movies to utilize in their nightmarish visions of devil worshipping cults. But what is a cult really when you get right down to it?

According to Wikipedia (reliable source, I know), "a cult is a religious or social group with socially deviant or novel beliefs and practices. However, whether any particular group's beliefs and practices are sufficiently deviant or novel is often unclear, thus making a precise definition problematic." The notion of what is or isn't a cult is often subjective, and the most widespread notions of what makes cultish behavior are more often than not culturally defined. When Christianity was still in its infancy, many considered it a cult. Nowadays, in most of the Western world, Christianity is the dominant religion - so much so that in certain places being an atheist can have a very strongly negative social stigma.

In a climate such as this, where angels and God represent all that is holy and pure, it makes sense that the flipside would be demons and Satan. After all, horror films do deal with "the other", and create an atmosphere of fear (usually of the unknown) that threatens the safety and security of the world we know. And what bigger threat to God's kingdom is there than Satan? But who says cultish behavior has to mean human sacrifice and devil worship? The notion of what is or isn't a cult is subjective after all. And as the protagonist of The Cult states, "all religions are cults". Just like how from a Christian perspective Satan can represent evil and disobedience against God's holy law, from a Satanic perspective Satan can represent individuality and mental strength. Not all Satanists are devil worshippers, after all. Those of a LaVeyan persuasion, for example. are atheists for whom Satan is a symbol of their celebration of individuality - not a literal being they swear allegiance to. It would not be at all unimaginable then that from a Satanic perspective, a Christian ritual such as communion could be seen as a grotesque and perverse example of cannibalism.

When most people think of cults though, they don't think of human sacrifice and devil worship. They think of something a bit more subtle - cults that seem like organized religions, but whom tend to have some darker traits, such as living in isolated communities and not being allowed to see loved ones who are either not part of the cult or have been deemed toxic by cult leaders (I'm looking at you, Scientology). This can be seen as limiting personal freedom and as a form of brainwash to give cult leaders more power. But from an atheistic point of view, couldn't a religion such as Christianity in essence also be seen as a form of brainwashing that limits the life of followers? There are of course differing levels of intensity regarding how certain religions or certain communities that interpret said religions go about controlling believers, but where do you draw the line? And who exactly draws it? When does a religion really become a cult, or are all religions in essence cults? The main character of The Cult sure seems to think so.

The Cult is very unsubtle about the way it has its protagonist blatantly spell out his motivations and feelings regarding religion. Having a main character who denounces religion despite his believer friend's warnings, sets up a story where them falling prey to an evil Satanic cult could be seen as the price they pay for their rejection of religion. In this interpretation, the overarching theme and message would be pro-religion, warning not to stray from the righteous path. But when you're ready to interpret The Cult in this way, the twist ending more or less pulls the rug from under such interpretations. The way the ending frames the rest of the short is thus the most (if not only) interesting thing about it.