The Sacrament Review

Posted: May 3, 2014 in Horror, Reviews, Thriller
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

the-sacrament-joe-swanberg-in-un-immagine-dal-set-283325Ti West’s new work, The Sacrament, is a surprisingly good movie that uses the events of the infamous Jonestown Massacre of 1978 as the basis for a faux documentary that investigates a commune which the elderly, poor, and disadvantaged have established in the jungle of an unidentified country under the direction of a charismatic preacher they call Father. Generally, the material is not handled in an exploitative manner nor does the final result belong in any way to the horror genre, although the movie has been incorrectly characterized by some as such.

And for those reasons, the film is unlikely to attract the audience it deserves.

Director West has carved out a reputation for himself among horror fans with The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, his contributions to the anthologies V/H/S and The ABCs of Death and his brief, but memorable appearance in last year’s reimagining of the slasher flick, You’re Next. (For those scoring at home, West plays Tariq, the guy who catches the crossbow bolt in his forehead.)

Here, West has written and helmed a thriller that members of the younger generation who serve as the core of his audience and who are unfamiliar with Jim Jones, Congressman Leo Ryan, the People’s Temple, Guyana, and one of the largest mass suicides in history, may view as less plausible than the ghosts in West’s movie The Innkeepers. These are the moviegoers who may use the phrase “drink the kool aid,” but have no clue as to its origin.

Those who recall the events that some have categorized as the largest loss of American civilian lives prior to 9-11 and can appreciate the tension of the set-up here as well as the sad inevitability of the ending are unlikely to turn out for this movie. And that’s unfortunate.

The brother of a recovering addict who is now a member of the group contacts a guerrilla documentary crew that agrees to travel with him to the jungle site to visit his sister and see for themselves what is happening. The settlement is called Eden Parish, and despite a few uncomfortable moments upon arrival with an overarmed security contingent, the group’s first hours inside the settlement leave a strong, favorable impression. That evening, a note containing a plea for help is passed to the visitors, and the utopian facade begins to crumble.

The cast is generally quite good in adopting a straight-forwarding acting style appropriate to the documentary format rather than the more emotive, immersion approach of acting seen in most feature films. Amy Seimetz starts out strong as Caroline, the recovering addict sister, although she overplays it slightly when the situation disintegrates toward the end. Gene Jones portrays Father, the charismatic huckster at the center of the events, with a slippery con man’s charm and just enough paranoia and psychoses to leave the viewer asking how far is he willing to go and how much in control is he of his own actions.

The third act is the weakest part of the film. As the tragedy unfolds, West reverts to tricks best left for his next horror film, including an unnecessarily protracted death scene followed by an unnecessarily elaborate one, a rather silly chase through the woods, part of which is miraculously captured by a dropped camera, and an escape that comes across as arbitrary and contrived. Still, the final product is much more than what one might expect.

Three and a half stars.

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