The Sacrament is a 2013 American horror thriller film directed by Ti West and produced by Eli Roth. The movie had its world premiere on September 3rd, 2013 at the Venice Film Festival and had a wide theatrical release on May 1, 2014.The movie’s plot takes several elements from real life events such as the Jonestown Massacre of 1978 (previously filmed as Guyana: Crime of the Century aka Guyana: Cult of the Damned).
New York fashion photographer, Patrick (Kentucker Audley, also seen in West’s segment of V/H/S) somewhat reluctantly decides to visit his sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz, You’re Next), who has lived in a remote, rural commune since her release from a drug rehabilitation centre. Seeing an opportunity for a story, Patrick’s two friends Sam (AJ Bowen, House of the Devil, Hatchet 2) and Jake (Joe Swanberg, V/H/S) who work for Vice Magazine (neat ‘real-life’ advertising) who are making a name for themselves with a strand of investigative journalism aimed at the hipster elements of society. Upon arrival at the remote Eden Parish, they are immediately alarmed by the armed guards at the gates but are put at ease by some of the chattier members of the community, all of whom are God-fearing and speak in awe of The Father, the leader of their clan whose sonorous tones we hear blessing them over a Tannoy system.
It would appear Caroline couldn’t be happier, so the group concentrate on finding something to report, in the absence of any other action; despite the residents of Eden Parish being more than a little sceptical about media intrusion, they manage to interview some of the residents and are even granted on audience with the mysterious ‘Father’. The Father (Gene Jones, No Country For Old Men) is as engaging and enigmatic as his voice would suggest but gives little away and plants seeds of concern in the visitors that all may not be as jolly as is made out. Duly, a frightened mother and her mute daughter make clear their terror and desire to escape in a clandestine meeting and it soon becomes clear that the beloved Father’s ability to control his flock has left his commune’s inhabitants with far more sinister futures than gardening and weaving…
A preamble from Sam explaining Vice’s raison d’être should act as a klaxon to viewers of the last decade’s horror that a somewhat slight excuse for wobbly camera work is imminent. The problems with this are largely that it is now such an overused effect that seasickness tablets are as essential nowadays as a remote control. This is not The Sacrament‘s fault, of course but the conceit falls flat when every second of their visit is deemed worthy of filming, often with such grand incompetence that you really think they should consider another career. Worse still are the moments when the convenient positioning of a camera (as well as ‘phantom’ cameras which couldn’t possibly be operated by any of the characters) drags you out of the film’s narrative. Though a step up from recent found footage, the documentary angle is believable but flawed by a rather ham-fisted reminders.
The acting is certainly worthy of mention, not least Gene Jones who could scarcely be better as the Parish leader, clearly up to no good but kept as a shadowy character for a significant period of the film. Seimetz too is believable as the reborn innocent flower-child and the cast of residents is perfectly serviceable, if necessarily bland. Audley is afforded surprisingly little screen-time, leaving the least well-realised leads to take most of the limelight, doubly unfortunate as you can’t help feeling that their predicament is entirely their own doing. The film’s musical score is a high note, the work of Tyler Bates (Dawn of the Dead, 2004, Watchmen), one of the more interesting composers for film and television of recent times.
After the understated, though excellent, Innkeepers, rather more full-on House of the Devil and trashy Cabin Fever 2, there remains a feeling that Ti West still hasn’t hit his stride or decided to throw the kitchen sink at anything – indeed, some of his best work is featured on the segmented V/H/S and The ABCs of Death. Here, once more, what we’re actually left with is a fairly straight re-telling of the Jonestown Massacre – sometimes so alarmingly similar you begin to begrudge that someone has a writing credit; this is fine but the viewer is left hanging on for a final revelation or twist and it simply never comes. The final shot is an almost blushing ‘that’s all folks!’. The film can at least serve as a cautionary tale to those tempted to sell their houses and give their money to pseudo-religious leaders.
Daz Lawrence, Horrorpedia
“The film’s intelligence extends to its strong but suitably modest tech package, with the narrative involvement of Vice providing an alibi for Eric Robbins’ fluid, generously lit lensing; most films in the found-footage genre have no reason to look this good. Jade Healy’s production design is a particular asset, visually conveying the camp’s spartan, faux-organic principles with absolute authenticity. Sound design, as ever with the helmer’s work, is tack-sharp, as is Tyler Bates’ spooky score…” Guy Lodge, Variety
” … if you sit down prepared to be a little bit patient (it’s not even a very long movie!) there’s a good chance you’ll appreciate the mystery, the suspense, the shocks, and the payoffs that The Sacrament has to offer. With all due respect to The Innkeepers and House of the Devil — two very good thrillers — The Sacrament may be Ti West’s angriest, cleverest, and most accomplished feature yet.” Scott Weinberg, FEARnet
“The picture is violent, a necessary cinematic pressure to capture despair, yet West lingers on the suffering, studying a man gasping for life as he’s poisoned to death, while showing a little girl getting her throat slit by her mother. It’s gratuitous, especially when it becomes clear that the film isn’t going anywhere original with its overview of brutal self-sacrifice…” Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com