The Sacrament (2014)

Directed By: Ti West
Written By: Ti West
Starring: Joe Swanberg
  AJ Bowen
  Amy Siemetz
  Kentucker Audley
The Sacrament

As someone who openly confesses to having a love/hate relationship with the films of Ti West, I’m perhaps not the best person to review his latest offering The Sacrament. West is a master at creating eminently watchable, interesting characters and popping them into unusual situations but his very deliberate pacing and inability to really nail his endings never sits quite right with me as a viewer.

The Sacrament revolves around a couple of VICE reporters who go looking for a man’s missing sister; an ex junkie who’s been on a sober living compound for some time and whose location is currently unknown. With only a brief communication telling them where to meet their helicopter pilot, the reporter, camera operator and the brother of the missing woman are taken to a remote village full of serene people who believe that their leader; the mysterious ‘Father’, has created ‘Heaven on Earth’ for them at Eden Parish.

It doesn’t take long for cracks to show in the veneer of some of the inhabitants and the reporters are thrust into a bizarre cult-like scenario with devastating results.

Touted as a found-footage movie, The Sacrament is actually a regular movie, complete with titles and a soundtrack, that just happens to utilise found footage elements as a storytelling technique. It’s a genuine relief that it’s mostly free of shaky-cam, although the uncertainty of who may survive to edit the footage does dampen the tension somewhat.

The Sacrament is chock full of the usual West crew, including AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg and Amy Siemetz. Some people aren’t a fan of the incestuous way that these multi-talented actors/writers/directors all employ one another for their own projects but personally I find it fascinating to watch. Particularly actors like Siemetz and Bowen, the former who is just an out and out chameleon and the latter who has proved himself time and time again to be one of the best actors working on the indie scene today.

They’re all wonderful here, and the rounded characters provide one of the films real strengths. Much like The Innkeepers, they are enough to keep you glued to your seat despite the lack of any real action in the first two acts. In addition to the gamut of West regulars, one of the real standouts is Gene Jones as the enigmatic Southern preacher ‘Father’. He recalls the same religious fervour and latent malevolence as Michael Parks character in Kevin Smith‘s similarly themed Red State, and is incredibly menacing whilst remaining totally calm and seemingly benevolent.

Spoilers:

The real drawback to The Sacrament is it’s inherent similarity to The Jonestown Massacre and if you’re at all familiar with the events that took place then you’ll know exactly which direction the film will take and there’ll be absolutely no surprises. The only real surprise is that West chose not to declare the basis in truth and sell the film as a fictionalised version of the real mass suicides as that, to me, would have made much more sense, given that using an existing publication sets the film firmly in our World. In fact, the film is even presented as though the events within were real so with that in mind, it seems doubly odd not to acknowledge The Jonestown Massacre given that it’s almost identical in all but name.

While it’s not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, The Sacrament is much like all of West’s films in that it simply…happens. The events unfold in his usual meticulously plotted way but there’s not much in the way of scares or shocks to qualify it as the horror film it sets out to be. There are some memorable moments, including an eye opening self immolation, but the film is otherwise forgettable, which is a shame.

As I mentioned previously, I’m of two minds when it comes to West’s fare so if you’re a staunch fan then please do check the film out as you’ll undoubtedly find much to appreciate but if, like me, you’re unsure then tread with caution. Either way, it’s surely worth a watch.

Rating: ★★★★★½☆☆☆☆

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