The Ceremony Is About To Begin

The Ceremony Is About To Begin (2024)

The Ceremony Is About To Begin seen at Panic Fest 2024

Director/co-writer Sean Nichols Lynch’s The Ceremony Is About To Begin opens with a series of monochrome interviews, each captioned with both the subject’s forename and, in scare quotes, the adopted name of an Egyptian god. For these are all ex-members of the Osiris Collective, a commune located in rural Northern California, and also a cult that, up to a point, was relatively harmless. Its charismatic founder Father Osiris (Raul Delarosa) was an ageing, bearded hippy who gathered around him young, somewhat lost people recruited from colleges, co-ops and festivals, and who decorated the property with, among other things, a lot of Egyptian kitsch.

The members of the community initially loved being there – but in 2018, Father Osiris, while ascending Mount Shasta with his fresh disciple “Anubis” (co-writer Chad Westerbrook Hinds), disappeared, presumed dead, and Anubis appointed himself as leader, bringing a newly controlling, toxic presence to the Collective. This was when all the interviewees had become uncomfortable and disillusioned, and left for good. As one of them, Helen/“Satis” (Lyndsey Bohlender), asks the man behind the camera what his connection is with the cult, Keith Evans (co-writer John Laird) turns the camera on himself, and there is a shift to colour.

Keith has in fact received an e-mail from Anubis himself (whose real name we never learn) inviting him to come and film the Collective, but the documentarian’s motives for going are personal as well as professional: the love of his life Maddy left him some years ago for the cult, and now that he is being divorced by his wife, he hopes to hook up with Maddy again. Lovesick and lonely, Keith is a lost soul. He arrives at the commune expecting to film the many members who stayed there, but all he finds is Anubis, who though weird and not a little unhinged, is all too happy to be interviewed on camera.

This jittery free spirit, a former pornographer and abiding psychonaut, resembles – sartorially, physically, pharmacologically and ‘philosophically’ – none other than Jim Morrison, the drugged-up, dreamy front man of The Doors. Indeed the title of this film is lifted directly from Morrison’s opening words on The Doors‘ final studio album, An American Prayer (1978), mixed together from Morrison’s spoken word recordings some time after his 1971 death, so that the album, significantly, forms a mystic bridge between the living and the dead. Anubis has similarly transcendent aims, and other titles associated with The Doors, like Break On Through (To The Other Side) or No One Here Gets Out Alive, might equally have served the film’s transmigratory themes.

“I’ll be honest,” Keith tells Anubis some way into the Ceremony Is About To Begin, “I came in thinking I would control this situation and I’d uncover some big conspiracy and, you know, that this would be some sort of sensational interview documentary, and I was gonna find, I don’t know, fucking bodies stacked somewhere or something, or, you know, Osiris mummified at the top of the temple.” No doubt viewers had similar expectations of Keith’s film, recognising in it the familiar tropes of mockumentary horror – yet Anubis laughs this off and suggests, even as he turns the camera on Keith, that what is in fact being documented is Keith’s “personal journey” and his own “fucked up life” (“you lost somebody once, you’re losing somebody again, that seems compelling to me”). The truth, though, will lie somewhere in between, as Keith – who certainly is a loser – is easy prey to a self-declared hierophant who, in keeping with his chosen name, presides over mummification, tomb protection and the guidance of lost souls. 

The resulting cultish two-hander, falling somewhere in the limbo between Patrick Brice’s Creep (2014) and Josh Stifter’s Greywood’s Plot (2019), represents a power game over who controls the film and its narrative, with added Egyptology and literal brainwashing. Even for its relatively short duration, The Ceremony Is About To Begin might seem a little thin, but its pay-off is grotesquely satisfying, with everyone, in a way, getting what they want, or at least need, on their transgressive ascent to a higher plane. 

strap: Sean Nichols Lynch’s ‘cult’ mockumentary pits a weak-minded filmmaker against a sociopathic hierophant

© Anton Bitel