Overview: Two reporters follow their friend as he attempts to find his sister at a secluded and guarded commune. Magnolia Films; 2014; Rated R; 95 Minutes.
Father: The Sacrament‘s storyline is a direct borrowing from the Jonestown Massacre of 1978. Actor Gene Jones stands in brilliantly for the real-life Jim Jones and delivers one of the most intriguing turns as a film cult leader that I can remember. Most of the camp’s residents refer to their ideological leader as “Father.” Father is at once charming and unsettling, seemingly both compassionate and a megalomaniac, centralized comfortably and menacingly amongst the camp of damaged souls. Like both of Ti West’s previous features, this terror vehicle calmly lets the engine warm before pushing the gas to the floor. House of the Devil capitalized on the director’s patience to a masterful degree of stressful tension. The Inkeepers relied on its patience to a flawed degree, offering too many long boring stretches to maintain terror. When the exposition of The Sacrament holds a little too long, the appearance of Father adjusts the movie in just the right direction.
The Event: It isn’t a spoiler to say that this movie is moving toward a mass suicide effort unless the reader/viewer knows nothing of film and history. The mass suicide attempt starts earlier than I expected, and I hated every minute of it… because it is perfect. The onscreen dying is sincere and honest. Brutal. The actors and the director are moving down a rarely traveled path here. Most horror movies find a way to place distance between the viewer and the onscreen deaths– over-saturation, unrealistic gruesomeness, etc. Not here. Onscreen death in The Sacrament feels far too real to allow for viewer comfort, let alone enjoyment. This is a newly exhibited tool from Ti West’s repertoire, and he wields it expertly. Fans of pure horror should be trembling with hope and fear of what West will bring to the genre.
The Perspective: When utilized properly, the found footage approach can offer a jarring first person perspective. But this benefit comes at high cost. Creating a story wherein the characters are the photographers requires that there be a constant narrative excuse for the camera to be at play. The Sacrament is constantly having to reach back to include its cameras. Presented in documentary form, there is the confusion as to whether we believe that this is “found footage” or “produced footage.” The camera rolls with unedited filming through violent stretches, while title screens, name plates, and music accompany the calmer periods and ending. This lends to a certain degree of hesitation in terms of suspending disbelief, because with found footage, the writer has to account for an implied explanation for how the footage was found and produced or risk starting off on an insincere foot.
Overall: The Sacrament is a brutal and agonizing horror film that overcomes its error in format by way of an engaging central performance and fierce presentation of a familiar horrific event.
Grade: B +