Many people spend their lives looking for meaning. They try different things; religion, emersion in work or family, vision quests. Some are fortunate enough to find what they are looking for, for others it is the search itself that defines them. Writer/director Brian Wimer’s film MANTRA introduces us to six people from diverse walks of life who have come together for a spiritual retreat. Whatever they were looking for, they were not ready for what they found.
Wimer plays “the Guru”, a spiritual leader who defines their world during the retreat. Do not talk, do not kill anything, and do not engage in sexual gratification with another or alone. When one of them starts to ask a question his quick response is “There are no questions here, only answers.” The Guru follows the very zen philosophy that pain comes from desire and therefore by giving up desire, one gives up pain. So he encourages the group to give up their desires and be at peace. To this end they all are given simple, mundane tasks. Cleaning toilets, scrubbing the showers, separating dark bits of rice from the white, digging a hole; these are simple, almost mindless tasks that allow the group to reflect on what the Guru is teaching them.
Some of them begin experiencing strange visions as the retreat progresses and when the Guru dies during an outing in the forest, things become even more strange for the group. They finally begin to talk to one another, revealing the troubles which haunt them and made them come on the retreat in the first place. These revelations in turn are like a catalyst for the visions they experience to take on meanings directly related to each person’s fear or guilt about something from their past. Only these visions seem to become real with gruesome results as the group is slowly killed by what they fear.
MANTRA is billed as a horror film. However, that is an over simplification of this film. It is more a movie about self-discovery and the facing of inner demons, of course the “inner demons” in this film usually brutally kill the ones who face them in a manner befitting to their fears. Mantra fits well with another of Wimer’s films EAT ME: A ZOMBIE MUSICAL, in its examination of religion and belief. Where EAT ME went for the absurd and almost whimsical with its imagery, MANTRA goes for the darker side allowing fears to manifest themselves as dead friends and loved ones come back, if not for revenge, then to beckon the living to join them. MANTRA is not a traditionally scary horror film. However, it is a film that will make the viewer think and pay attention. The film allows the viewer to become compelled by the characters and although not necessarily empathizing with all of them, certainly appreciating them. The film is also noteworthy for its lack of dialogue. Some characters never speak a single word, yet the viewer is able to understand them and the forces compelling them onward as they move towards ultimate enlightenment, or death whichever comes first. So don’t kill anything, don’t engage in sexual gratification alone or with others, don’t talk and watch MANTRA, because in it there are no questions… only answers.