Cabal (2020) poster

Cabal (2020)


USA. 2020.


Director/Story/Photography – Rene Perez, Screenplay – Barry Massoni & Rene Perez, Producer – Joseph Camilleri, Music – The Darkest Machines [Rene Perez]. Production Company – Rene Perez Films.


Master John Ozuna (Dragonfly), Eva Hamilton (Elizabeth), Joseph Camilleri (Dr Bieger), Master Tony Jackson (Sallos), Melody Vaughan (Zhora), Kimberly Molina (Victim #1), Clementine Hetherington (Victim #2), Rebecah Tarabocchia (Victim #3), Linda Bott (Kathleen), J.D. Angstadt (Mob Boss)


Dragonfly operates as a hitman hidden with his face behind a steel mask. He is approached in a bar by Elizabeth who reveals that she works as his remote tech support. She shows him evidence that their employers are not good people and have been getting him to eliminate innocents in order to achieve their goals. The employers are a secret group that are attempting to take control of the world by manipulating media towards the destruction of family and morals. The backers operate a scheme whereby girls are recruited from an orphanage on the pretext of modelling assignments and taken to the wilderness where they are hunted by the hulking, masked killer Sallos. The bodies are then taken and the parts used for blackmarket organ transplants. Dragonfly sets out to the wilderness preserve to shut the operation down, but this means going up against Sallos and the group’s hired mercenaries.

Rene Perez is a low-budget director who has maintained a reasonable career in genre cinema throughout the 2010s. Perez first appeared with zombie Western The Dead and the Damned (2010) and subsequently went onto make Demon Hunter (2012), Alien Showdown: The Day the Old West Stood Still (2013), The Dead and the Damned and the Darkness (2014), The Burning Dead (2015), Prey for Death (2015), The Obsidian Curse (2016), From Hell to the Wild West (2017), Death Kiss (2018), Cry Havoc (2020) and Legend of Hawes (2022), plus a trilogy of slasher films Playing with Dolls (2015), Playing with Dolls: Bloodlust (2016) and Playing with Dolls: Havoc (2017) and a trilogy of fairytale adaptations with The Snow Queen (2013), Sleeping Beauty (2014) and Little Red Riding Hood (2015).

Cabal is an odd mix of Action Film and horror film. The hero is played John Ozuma who in real-life runs a kung fu teaching school in San Jose and has won several awards – on screen he is credited as ‘Master John Ozuna’. Ozuna plays a hitman for a secret organisation and for no reasons that is never made clear goes into action wearing a beaten metal mask. (This has led more than one commentator to label Cabal as a superhero film, although this is not the case – Master John Ozuna is no more than a regularly empowered martial action hero). Ozuna also choreographs the assorted fight scenes throughout.

Added to that are various horror movie elements where women are taken from orphanages to the wilderness preserve on supposed modelling campaigns and then pursued and attacked by the hulking Master Tony Jackson (another kung fu practitioner/stuntman). Jackson is a standard slasher movie hulking killer and wears an impressive Leatherface-type mask that seems to have multiple faces sewn onto it.

Master John Ozuna as Dragonfly in metal mask in Cabal (2020)
Master John Ozuna as Dragonfly in beaten-metal mask
Master Tony Jackson as Sallos in Cabal (2020)
Master Tony Jackson as the hulking serial killer Sallos

I do have some plausibility issues with the scenario – like do girls who seems to be well into their twenties still live at orphanages? Don’t you leave the orphanage when you come of age and are able to enter the workforce? And does nobody at the orphanage seem to keep track of the suspiciously high number of girls that fail to return from these modelling assignments and maybe do the normal thing and report the disappearances to the police? There is however the amusing scene where the doctor in charge of the Organ Harvesting scheme explains how they maintain their cover because “we have a serial killer as a front.” Although luring girls to a wilderness and having them pursued and killed by a masked killer does seem a very roundabout way for a blackmarket scheme to obtain their supply of body parts.

These scenes are surprisingly similar to Rene Perez’s Playing With Dolls series in which various people are placed in a Most Dangerous Game scenario by a billionaire and forced to survive with their bare hands against an unleashed masked killer. With a small stretch of the imagination, you could see that the character of Cabal might have been created as a nemesis to go up against the Playing With Dolls killers.

Cabal works okay. Most of it is a series of scenes with the killer pursuing various women. There is a passable attempt to build out a relationship between Master John Ozuma and Eva Hamilton. She gives a fair performance, although Master John Ozuna’s performance is hidden either behind sunglasses or a steel mask for most of the show.

The other interesting aspect is the cabal of the title who we see sitting around plotting the downfall of civilisation and the destruction of the notions of love and family, all by promoting messages via advertising and social media. It sounds exactly like some ultra-conservative, Christian Right fantasy about people plotting the destruction of the nuclear family ideal. And when they start talking about devouring the lifeforce of young people in order to stay young forever, it seems like a film that has entered into full-on QAnon territory. Indeed, Rene Perez seems to have taken a right wing bent in his films of recent with the Christian Western Righteous Blood (2021), The Insurrection (2020) where an entertainment corporation CEO turns whistleblower to expose the secrets of liberal Hollywood and They Want Us Woke Not Awake (2023).

Trailer here

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