I don't think the creators behind The List meant the title to refer to the unending litany of clichés the film contains, and yet that's what I kept thinking of when watching this supposedly "subtle" (as the filmmakers and actors tell us in a brief featurette) treatment of the eternal battle of good versus evil. So let's just start with an abbreviated list of some of the deja vu all over again you can look forward to when viewing The List: dark, langorous shots of someone praying in a candlelit church; secret cabals signing an agreement in blood; a slow motion shot of our blonde heroine exiting her car, hair swept back by a soft breeze; jumpcuts with hands suddenly reaching in from offscreen accompanied by a thumping bass note just for added shock value; whispering voices coming from darkened rooms; an all-knowing African American woman who actually says "gone with the wind"; speaking of wind, a whooshing, evil wind sound every time the Book containing The List appears; and on and on, ad infinitum. I'd like you all to realize that this is only a brief, a very brief, sampling of the tried and true that The List offers as it spins out the story of a group of southerners who secreted Confederate gold away in 1863 and have seen their fortunes rise astronomically even as their personal lives seem to be going to, well, hell.
Enter our modern day hero, Renny Jacobsen (Chuck Carrington), who finds out he has been simultaneously disinherited from his father's multi-millions while being made the newest member of The List, the descendants of the original gold hoarders. By that ridiculous sort of chance that only ever shows up in film, Renny also hooks up with Jo (Hilarie Burton), who happens to be the daughter of another recently deceased List member, though the List is an old boys' club and does not take kindly to having a female in its presence. The current President of The List is one Desmond Larochette, who you know must be evil incarnate simply because he is played by Malcolm McDowell. Though Jacobsen is initially wowed by the monies seemingly within his grasp as a result of his membership in the secret society, that old maxim "love of money is the root of all evil" starts tugging at his conscience, especially after other List members start dropping like flies and, even worse, Jo is suddenly stricken by a mysterious disease.
Yes, it's all as patently silly as it sounds, but The List, unlike Desmond Larochette, isn't all bad. For a relatively smaller budgeted film, it has a very nice look (courtesy of director Gary Wheeler and DP Tom Priestley, Jr.) with a nice palpable feel for the Old South, and the Old South made modern in current times. Carrington and Burton, both doing some of their first major film work after nascent television careers, do fine, if unspectacular, jobs as the young couple caught up in a world of intrigue they can't quite understand (something a lot of the audience will probably be feeling as well). Will Patton does a nice job as an attorney about three quarters of the way through the film, though he's one of several characters forced to utter supposedly uplifting words of God's grace, this time as it applies to ex-cons. And Pat Hingle has a nice cameo as one of the elder List members who attempts to reveal Larochette's darker motives to Renny.
The major problem with The List is a certain (and forgive me my punning trespasses here) listlessness throughout its proceedings, hindered by some plot holes wide enough to drive a Mac truck through. There's just not enough real menace here, despite McDowell's furrowed brow and thick Southern accent, to provide much doubt of the outcome, especially when the "good guys" are all church-goin' folk who keep exhorting each other to pray, pray, pray. What is also never fully explained in the film is the supernatural element--how did secreting Confederate gold give the members seeming control over life and death, and led to the Larochette dynasty's apparent lock on Evil on Earth? Are those whispering voices a needle-drop effect from a Lost soundtrack? And why, in a sort of anemic denouement, doesn't Larochette, Mr. Evil Incarnate, get any real comeuppance (a deleted scene provides a very brief alternate ending where he's at least on the verge of some). For a film that seeks to depict deeper spiritual truths, The List tries to have its Biblical cake and eat it, too--on one hand, it plays like a very special episode of 7th Heaven, although replete with devilish underpinnings, and on the other hand it seems like a strange offcast bastard child (grandchild?) of Rosemary's Baby and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. We were told to pray for Rosemary's Baby in its day, but I'm not sure even prayer can overcome the story shortcomings of The List.