Raise Your Kids on Seltzer is a film about a married couple, a film about two “deprogrammers” whose job it is to kidnap vulnerable and brainwashed cult members for concerned family and friends. It makes no effort to lay it all down for its viewers; on the contrary, one is thrown into an unknown context, and what seems like a disjointed reality. The world of the film is contemporary America, and the protagonists constitute a regular marriage – both affectionate and problematic. They work on corporate videos, and their past of deprogramming is behind them, apparent only in a book that Terry, the husband, is in the process of writing.
From the beginning, the viewer finds himself piecing everything together slowly but with great eagerness. The director, Daniel Kremer, feeds in small doses of coherence until the picture is wholly clear. The stunning naturalness of the dialogue, the actors, the quiet poignancy of each scene, allows us to approach the film as though it were a dense novel. What is wholly clear from the beginning, however, is that the story unravelling is one that deals with an array of profound issues – Daniel Kremer opens his film on a Borges quote, “To fall in love is to start a religion that has a fallible God” and an interview of an attorney being questioned on the cult of his defendant. Scenes shift with perfect fluidity, ranging from intimate scenes behind closed doors, to walks with friends in the vast countryside.
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As the film moves forward, the growing tension between husband and wife becomes paramount. Both characters are haunted and damaged by their past, yet stifled by their present. These little tensions, their reactions and consequences, are what push the film towards its conclusion. The story, the protagonists’ backgrounds, the relevance of their past, is explained amidst scenes of tenderness, resentment and hostility. While the first two thirds of this film are defined by these fluid and shifting glimpses into a couple’s world, the last third takes on a slightly different shade, it becomes somewhat clearer and meatier. Much to Tessa’s horror, Terry finds a way to bring their past into the present, and the film climbs towards its climax.
Upon watching Raise Your Kids on Seltzer, one reflects on the sometimes harsh sometimes tender portrait of two people. Especially Tessa, the wife, whose vulnerability and complexity perhaps places her above Terry as the film’s main character. There are moments of extraordinary storytelling in this film, and the talent of the actors to make us believe them is abundant. It’s difficult to call this a film about a cult or about religion, because by the end, it comes across as something altogether new and strikingly different and something much more than initially expected –to call it a film about human nature is perhaps too vague, and to call it a film about cults is too narrow.
Watch the trailer for Raise Your Kids on Seltzer here: