Directed by Ti West
Starring Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Kentucker Audley, Gene Jones, Amy Seimetz
Review by Jordan
(note: some portions of this review my contain spoilers… don’t say I didn’t warn you)
The Sacrament is a disturbing journey. Skillfully directed by budding visionary Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, V/H/S, The ABC’s of Death), it ratchets the tension and intrigue almost to breaking point and features a thoughtful, nuanced lead performance from an unlikely source in horror peer AJ Bowen (who acts along-side West in Adam Wingard’s terrifically fun You’re Next, as well as the brilliant The Signal). It’s scary on a thoroughly human level, yet also disarming by throwing elements of brevity into the early scenes and through commendable use of hand-held photography and mysterious jungle locations it doubles as both a film and a movie.
Ultimately though, to it’s target audience of genre aficionados it’s obviously a fictitious re-telling of the Jim Jones-led mass suicide at Eden Parish, in which a collective of loyal followers move to a wilderness “paradise” and devote their lives (and donate all their money) to a psychotic man they believe will deliver them into Heaven. Sam (Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg) are a journalist and journalistic photographer respectively for Vice Magazine – a publication that specializes in telling stories that branch into the strange corners of human nature – who are contacted by the concerned Patrick (Kentucker Audley), whose previously drug addicted sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) has joined above cult led by “Father,” and enthralled by his story agree to travel with him to no-man’s land to find her and document the mysterious gathering.
I say “ultimately though,” because while it’s so, so clear through use of established actors and the borrowing of real-life events that The Sacrament is fiction, West made the unfortunate, embarrassing mistake of adding text at the completion stating that what we have just seen is in fact all real footage; craftily claiming that what we have witnessed is documentary and not entertainment. Normally this wouldn’t bother me so much; I’d shrug it off like I have for every sub-par, gory horror cash-in of the last decade, but The Sacrament was too good for it: too good for cheap tricks and too unique to lean on the Blair Witch precedent.
Having enthusiastically and with pleasure collected all of West’s work to date (including his debut The Roost) I was disappointed that he would undermine his fans in this manner. Still, and to compliment what you’re perhaps thinking, if this is my one real beef with it that’s not really too bad is it? The answer: no. For all who seek suspense and white-knuckle thrills this really is must-see viewing.
Besides, I blame this mistake on producer Eli Roth anyway. Thanks to Aftershock, possibly the worst movie ever made, he’s an easy target.
No review of The Sacrament is complete without mention of it’s main antagonist; a tubby, enigmatic force of corruption and depravity whose guile and deception are weapons capable of forcing the once-ably minded to end their own lives when their “Eden” is compromised. Father (played with unnerving realism by the appropriately named Gene Jones) is the poster child for contemporary horror done right: unglamorous, unpredictable and unafraid to ignite a journey from which the protagonists can’t possibly escape.
The Sacrament really is a disturbing journey…
4 aviators out of 5
To read more about the real life events of Jonestown see our documentary review Here