How do I even begin to describe this week’s glorious Lifetime movie? I guess I could start by telling you it was called Escape From Polygamy. My knowledge of polygamy is limited to that Yearning for Zion Ranch controversy a few years ago and a couple of 30-second TV spots for Sister Wives, but that’s also probably all the filmmakers knew when they made this movie. As usual, spoilers abound, but if you paid attention in English class you can probably predict most of it anyway. As you can see from the title of this post, this was a new take on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Because there just aren’t enough of those these days.
We meet our heroine, cleverly named Julina (Haley Lu Richardson), and her mother Leann (Mary McCormack) as they’re picked up by Leann’s new husband Merril (Sam Hennings). I thought maybe his name was spelled like Meryl Streep and was gravely disappointed when I checked IMDb. Merril drives them to their new home on the polygamist compound, which looks surprisingly uncultish. Rather, everybody kind of dresses like hipsters. The men wear sharp suits and suspenders and the women do their hair in folksy braided styles they probably found while browsing Pinterest. Nothing like those bouffants the brainwashed Zion ladies told Oprah about. Julina even goes so far as to wear Converse, which I’m pretty sure is the devil’s sneaker. And their parties feature lights strung from the ceiling and a wooden dance floor. I was expecting the Lumineers to pop up and start singing “Ho Hey.” They even have one half of Garfunkel & Oates (Riki Lindhome) as one of the sister wives!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Julina starts to meet some of the locals. There’s 13-year-old Esther (Presley Henderson), who starts their conversation with “You’re really pretty.” Julina says thanks and Esther doesn’t even know she’s supposed to say “So you agree” next. What are they teaching these polygamists? Then there’s the leader of the community, aka The Prophet. I know he’s the bad guy because he’s played by consta-villain William Mapother and also his name is Ervil. ERVIL. Like The Target Lady’s way of saying Evil. Just in case you were worried this movie would be subtle.
But the most important person Julina meets is her one true love Ryder (Jack Falahee), who’s like if Mumford & Sons adopted the long-lost sixth member of One Direction. They run into each other when he’s lounging alone on a boulder with his shirt halfway unbuttoned, as you do. She spies on him, he notices her, and they have what feels like five minutes of speechless eye contact. I felt so much secondhand embarrassment during this scene, you guys. They have a flirty little chat in which Ryder reveals that he believes the world began earlier than 6,000 years ago. Ooh, dangerous. Later that night they dance together in the middle of a crowd but all the other people disappear and it’s just the two of them. Which isn’t at all like that scene in Pride & Prejudice. Not at all.
But that’s just the beginning of the romantic clichés. They’re apparently allowed to text on the polygamist compound (I know they’re not Amish, but…), and Ryder sends Julina a text for her to come to her window, where he just so happens to be standing. Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou so unoriginal? They kiss, and Julina soon learns Ryder is the Prophet’s son, and he has been chosen by God to succeed his father in the position. Good, maybe he can make some improvements. Like get a foosball table and also perhaps not oppress women. Just a thought.
Julina hangs out with Ryder at his abandoned barn that somehow nobody knows exists, and she soon learns just how much of a rebel he is. For example, his friend Micah vanished to Vegas and Ryder might be the next to go. Because he’s an apostate, the kind Esther warned her about. Ryder asks, “Does that scare you?” Julina says it doesn’t and then Ryder rips off his shirt and reveals how his skin sparkles in the sunlight. Just kidding. That reference would have been much too obvious. Oh, you want obvious? Try the next moment when Julina says their kiss was a sin and Ryder says, “Let me sin again.” It’s almost like they expect me not to have watched Leonardo DiCaprio play Romeo five times a week on VHS when I was fourteen.
Too bad Ervil the Evil wants to take Julina as his own wife and drag her to Mexico! The only way for Julina and Ryder to deal with this is obviously to marry themselves with only God as their witness and then use that as enough of an excuse to have barn sex. Ryder promises that Julina will be his only wife and OMG you guys it’s like the cutest. They make plans to run away but unfortunately Esther walks in to put a hex on them or something. I really have no idea how she found them in their refurbished hipster barn, but okay. She runs off, and Julina is worried she’ll tell on them, but Esther conveniently goes into labor the next day. Because surprise, she’s pregnant with Ervil the Evil’s baby and dies giving birth. Julina tries to comfort her on her deathbed but you can tell the whole time she just wants to go text Ryder about which bus they’re supposed to catch. Meanwhile, Ervil the Evil drives Ryder out to the middle of nowhere (BANISHED) so he can look really hot wandering alone through the desert in an undershirt.
Ryder makes it to Las Vegas, where a few hookers laugh at him because “he’s like homeless or something,” and he soon finds his friend Micah (Jake Weary), who’s part Shane West, part Christian Slater, possibly part prostitute, definitely part junkie, all Mercutio. Turns out Micah was banished too. The two plot to save Julina from having to marry Ethan Who’s Not On The Manifest from Lost. Oh, what’s up with Julina, you ask? She’s just been locked in a room by her evil fiancé and is currently fashioning a noose out of her wedding dress. No biggie.
The movie then crams its foregone climax into the last eight or so minutes. Micah is reunited with his mother, which didn’t really make me feel anything since I didn’t know much about him. Then Ervil finds Ryder, tells him Julina is dead, and doesn’t even give him a chance to find an apothecary that’ll give him poison to kill himself with before he beats him over the head with a baseball bat. This is a convenient time for Julina to rush in, back from the dead. Apparently her hanging didn’t work and her mother helped her fake her death. But is Ryder really dead? Nah, he’s fine. Oh, and look, here’s Merril, showing up for what’s probably only his third scene in the movie to shoot Ervil the Evil and prove to be the most useful person there. Where’ve you been, man?!
Merril gets to succeed Ervil as the leader, and he lies and says Ervil and Julina went to Mexico. But really, Ervil the Evil is now Ervil the Dead, and Julina and Ryder are escaping the compound with some help from Julina’s mother. They ride off with a guy who helps escapees of polygamy, and they’ll probably get divorced in two years so hurray! Did I enjoy this movie? Very much so. Did I think it was ridiculous? Hellz yes. Did the name Julina sound less and less like a name as the movie went on? Without a doubt. Will I now exclusively date men who wear suspenders? You betcha.