Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Violent Content including Bloody Images, Language and brief Drug Use
Directed by: Ti West
Written by: Ti West
Starring: Kentucker Audley, Amy Seimetz, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg & Gene Jones
Ti West has only directed one thing that I’ve enjoyed. That was his segment in V/H/S. That single 25-minute short film delivered more scares/tension than he’s been able to put in all of his movies combined. HOUSE OF THE DEVIL seemed like a fanboy retreading 70’s horror territory in a self-indulgent way. THE INNKEEPERS was just godawful. THE SACRAMENT sounded like a movie that I could get excited about. Perhaps Ti West finally found a feature that would be pretty darn creepy? The film is basically Jonestown done with a found footage lens. That set-up alone drips with potential, but West fails to deliver yet again.
Patrick, Sam, and Jake are reporters for the popular program Vice. After Patrick receives a foreboding letter from his sister at Eden Parish, an undisclosed rehabilitation community, Sam and Jake accompany him on the mysterious trip to the unconventional safe haven. Run by a cheerful, charismatic man (nicknamed Father), Eden Parish is a self-built community that seems to offer something for everyone. Of course, not all is as it seems. Small details reveal themselves as the night wears on and shows that the would-be paradise has a hidden, darker side. It becomes apparent that the trio of friends have arrived just as things are about to head for the worst.
Anybody familiar with Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre will automatically know how things play out. Ti West doesn’t hide the ties from the true horrific event that inspired this film. For the first third, it seems as if things are building for a potentially creepy flick that has the power to disturb long after it’s over. This quiet suspense is maintained for a solid amount of time right up to the film’s stand out scene. This being an interview delivered by Father (Gene Jones) who comes close to reaching the insane heights of Michael Parks in RED STATE. After this awesome scene, the film has reached its peak and it’s a rough downhill slide for the remainder of the running time. This is such a shame too, because there’s a lot of untapped potential lying just an arm’s length away. Ti West seems content to trek along the predictable territory and even falls victim to some purely idiotic writing on his part.
To maintain the eerie nature of a solid found footage horror film, the viewer must never be able to doubt what they are seeing is real. Clearly, we all know that this isn’t actual recovered footage. The difficult trick is to get the audience to forget that they’re watching a fabricated heavily edited piece of filmmaking and make them believe that they’re watching real footage from a horrific event. It is here that THE SACRAMENT seems conflicted with its own nature. The film is edited to look like a documentary, but the music score added to it (along with some unbelievably capable angles that manage to capture every convenient shot) negates the fear that a found footage horror flick should strike into the heart of the viewer. When it’s convenient for the story though, the film keeps those well-worn clichés. This includes some severe shaky camera work and a character talking to said camera in the face of danger. I wish people would stop doing their last little sign-offs in films of this kind (it was also recently seen in AFFLICTED, which was a far better handheld horror story).
Also destroying the illusion of this being found footage is some pretty bad acting. AJ Bowen (THE SIGNAL) and Joe Swanberg (YOU’RE NEXT) are usually capable of delivering solid performances. Here they come off as wooden. Bowen may not be used to the found footage perspective, but Swanberg was in V/H/S and did a good job in that film. As a supposed reporter, Bowen doesn’t seem to exude any real charisma. This is completely unlike Gene Jones though (who most may recognize as the gas station owner in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN). He’s downright riveting for his introduction as Father, but soon turns into an over-the-top monologue-spouting villain for every other scene he shows up in.
Besides the unbelievable acting, a terrible script (that began with such promise) also tanks this film. There are stupid horror movie character traits thrown in that had me rolling my eyes and talking to the screen in frustration. These included talking as loud as you possibly can when encountering some potentially dangerous secret information or running right into an open field when bad guys are looking for you. There are also a few laughable plot holes. One of these (seen multiple times) includes the question of why would you commit suicide in a far more painful grisly way, instead of drinking that perfectly acceptable cup of cyanide-laced juice that’s only a few feet away? The answer is for shock value. Ti West seems to abandon all ideas of scares or a disturbing undertone of less is more. Instead, he swings for the fences by throwing out unnecessary moments of bloody violence that had no logical place in this film.
The true irony is that people complain about Ti West taking forever to build-up to the payoff in his movies. He’s a self-attested fan of slow-burn horror films and that’s what he’s been making. THE INNKEEPERS (the worst film that actually sports his name) builds up to a two-minute jump scare scene. With HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, West spent nearly the entire movie following a babysitter around in an empty house for a 10 minute sequence at the end. In SACRAMENT, Ti West doesn’t necessarily go the full slow-burn route. He’s got almost 40 minutes of payoff and none of it pays off properly. Instead this all turns in entire film into a mess that didn’t thrill, chill or disturb. Instead, I was checking my watch to see how much more I had to sit through. THE SACRAMENT is a disappointment any way you slice it.
I won’t say the film is outright terrible, but drinking tainted Kool-Aid seems like a much more exciting endeavor than sitting through THE SACRAMENT. For a less dangerous option, you could always just watch a documentary about Jonestown. It’s sure to be more scary and well put together than this!