This independently produced drama is based on historical fact: In 1857, Mormon settlers, in an area near Cedar City, massacred 120 people bound for California. Jon Voight plays Jacob Samuelson, a paranoid religious zealot whose initial hostility to the settlers is inspired partly by women wearing pants, and the fact that some of them come from Missouri (a state that drove the Mormons out). From this snowballs a fury of religion-based intolerance that leads to the historic Mountain Meadows Massacre of, prophetically enough, September 11th.
Director Christopher Cain (YOUNG GUNS) shows skill in creating period detail and a sense of inescapable dread, even amidst the wide open spaces of the beautiful mountainous locations. Deep shadows caused by the stark sunshine contrast with lots of tense, sweaty close-ups of fear-stricken and hateful faces. Terence Stamp shows up as the Church of Latter Day Saints leader Brigham Young, who gets involved in the decision to massacre the settlers (a controversial detail, debated to this day).
Offsetting the unease is a Romeo-and-Juliet-style romance between one of Samuelson's handsome young sons (Trent Ford) and Emily (Tamara Hope), a beautiful red-headed maiden from the wagon train. A nice score of acoustic guitars and strings blends suspense and rustic breeziness.