UFF Review: Sarah Goras Peterson Explores Paranoia And Cults In ‘The Zand Order’
The Zand Order directed by Sarah Goras Peterson follows a mother searching for answers related to her daughter’s death. She believes a cult was responsible for her daughter’s death, however the police had their doubts and previously closed the investigation.
The film follows Yessica (the camera specialist) and Vex (the tracker/guide) who were hired by Morgan (the mother), to help navigate the Floridian wilderness and document evidence that the cult is real. The movie is heavily influenced by The Blair Witch Project but there is also some True Detective season one influence in the cult through the use of yellow, the labyrinth-like hideout, and the taking of children.
As the women get deeper into the forest, and they realize this won’t be an easy task, they fall into different archetypes of responding to fear. Morgan (Anna Talakkottur, Jurassic World) turns her fear into a deeper resolve and determination to get answers for her daughter. Yessica (Laura Stetman, The Right Stuff) becomes anxious, and Vex (Justine Renee, Hollywood Hurts) lashes out with anger. These archetypes allow for their paranoia to show in different ways which is a benefit to the story. Since there is no male character in the group (or the film for that matter) it does allow for Morgan, Yessica, and Vex to develop their characters outside of the male gaze and influence.
This film does some unique things to add to the tension and frighten the characters and audience. I loved the puzzle aspect that the cult would make the women participate in at night. It’s almost Saw-esque as they discover what is waiting for them each night. Also making the characters watch footage of themselves that the cult took of them. It feels like an underused plot device for found footage but one that I wish more would try and incorporate. To me it’s so terrifying to see video or photographs of yourself when you didn’t know someone was taking them. Especially when you are deep into a secluded area and you know help is not nearby.
My biggest complaint while watching was the dialogue. It would fluctuate wildly between believable and very awkward. There were a couple times where it took me right out of the movie. However, after finishing my viewing and doing some research on the movie, I found a wonderful podcast episode from The Overlook Hour where they interviewed director Sarah Goras Peterson. She talked about how she only outlined the film and gave the actresses individual prompts before filming and then let them improvise the scenes. Knowing that now I do have to give them some slack because there’s times where the improvisation did work extremely well for me. I just wish it was more consistent.
Touching on one other small complaint, the ending felt very safe and predictable. They took chances elsewhere in the film and tried to make the movie unique. It would have been my preference to see that same energy applied here and try something different to wrap up the story. There’s nothing wrong with the ending per se, and it may work better for other viewers.
Overall, The Zand Order is an interesting horror film. It’s definitely worth a watch if you’re a found footage fan and especially if you have an interest in cults. There’s unique ideas here to keep your attention and I will definitely be looking out for the next project from Sarah Goras Peterson. Release information for the film will be added here as it becomes available and in the meantime you can check out a teaser below.