Movie Review: ‘The Sacrament’
Starring: A.J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, and Gene Jones
Plot: A documentary crew follows a friend to check on his sister who might be in a cult.
Ti West is a master manipulator and impressed me right out of the gate. Both The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers are some of the most memorable horror flicks in quite some time. Some how he is able to bring out tension in even the most monotonous moments. Nothing even that scary actually happens in those two movies, but I still found myself at the edge of my seat. That is pretty damn skillful. He continues that trend with this movie.
It takes the form of raw documentary footage featuring a reporter from Vice, a real life news organization specializing in embedded reporting. The reporter and his cameraman follow their photographer buddy to South America to visit his sister, who may have joined a cult. The movie first tries to toy with the idea that this is an honest to god group of people who just want to live honestly and free of society’s evil grip. They are very friendly and accommodating, but Ti West’s invisible hands are making it very eerie without anything explicitly happening.
The problem is (and its a pretty big problem) this cult looks exactly like the Peoples Temple Agriculture Project. You probably know it better as Jonestown, where so-called religious leader Jim Jones had an investigating US Congressman executed and then led his followers in a mass suicide rather than wait for America to retaliate. In this story, the reporters take the place of the Congressman and his team. Now, when I say it looks exactly like it, I mean spitting image. Maybe that helped the eeriness a bit playing on my preconceptions, but I couldn’t help but think it was a bit lazy, as was the choice to use found footage. It really didn’t add much to the series of events other than the occasional vamping to the camera that the reporter character would do.
The movie really does start off really great, but as it continues, the escalating absurdity (which technically really happened) as well as the diminishing returns that usually come with the found footage style get West in way over his head. His manipulating ways just aren’t working the way they would normally like in his other features. He still has one secret weapon though: character actor Gene Jones. An older fellow you may recognize from No Country for Old Men (from the infamous coin toss in the gas station) who plays the Jim Jones leader role referred to as Father. It is a very calculated and measured performance that can be read as either paternal or threatening without much change.
The harsh truth of Ti West’s The Sacrament is that it would have worked better as a short, possibly as West’s individual effort for the next installment of the V/H/S/ anthology that has proven to be so popular.