Directed by Ti West
Starring: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, and Gene Jones
Reviewed by Monte Yazzie
The Sacrament” isn't necessarily a horror film but that doesn't make it any less horrific. Ti West, a genre standout who directed the slow burning throwback “Innkeepers” and the dread filled “House of the Devil”, directs his sixth feature which is reminiscent of the events that transpired during the Jonestown Massacre in 1978. Creatively handling tension and mystery in this film, even though the subject matter may be familiar to older audiences, West builds and molds the film into a deeply affecting piece of cinema.
Patrick (Kentucker Audley) receives a letter from his estranged sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) who has taken refuge in a religious commune known as Eden Parrish. Patrick brings along his friends Sam (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg) who are journalists working for Vice, the real journalism company known for their immersive pieces. The three men travel to an undisclosed tropical location and are met at the gates of the group built community by armed guards and resentment from its members. Sam wants an interview with the reclusive leader known as “Father” (Gene Jones), but quickly realizes the true extent of Eden Parrish’s control.
West employs a documentary style for this film. This hand held, motion heavy style has been commonly used in horror for “found footage” films. West separates “The Sacrament” from some of the sloppy trappings of “found footage” by utilizing the journalistic merit of Vice and shaping an impression of a documentary through onscreen written narrative and interview style edits. Though some scenes are still quite frantic with motion, the modified method works in gradually building tension from scene to scene. By the time “Father” appears on screen, amidst an entrance fit for a rock n’ roll band, the atmosphere is tautly apprehensive. Making the interview between Sam and “Father” gripping and spellbinding in the same manner as the first encounter of Clarice and Dr. Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs”.
West explores the depths of extreme religious devotion, pointing the camera on the diverse members of the community as they respond to questions of their past and their guidance by “Father” towards salvation. For the first 45 minutes, the film is dedicated to examining people, never offering the validity of deceit or honesty. It’s an effective technique used to twist the mystery that anyone familiar with Jonestown will likely be anticipating. While the film does a great job of character building and slowly manufacturing the narrative tension, once the chaos begins the film turns visceral with a few scenes that will undoubtedly be too intense for more sensitive viewers. It’s a jarring change that is necessary for the film, though for a few moments amidst the staggering disorder the film diverges into an overlong chase and evasion sequence that seems out of place.
Ti West continues to grow as a filmmaker, displaying with “The Sacrament” the ability to venture away from straightforward genre horror and examine the realistic terror that exists in the world.
Monte’s Rating: 4.00 out of 5.00