A fashion photographer is traveling to meet his sister at Eden Parish. Once there, his friends begin to film interviews with the Eden Parish inhabitants, all of whom speak of the commune in glowing terms. However, they soon discover that there is a sinister edge to the commune that belies the seemingly peaceful setting.
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★★★★★ review by Michael Offerosky on Letterboxd
Ti West's THE SACRAMENT is a chilling and effective film. Not really a horror film like he has done previously with HOUSE OF THE DEVIL but more of a sustained thriller. Despite what the film claims at the end, this is a fictional story which was written and directed by West. Three guys working for VICE media go out to what they think is a hippie commune to do a story and also to rescue their photographer's sister (Amy Seimetz). While at the site the trio from VICE realize that this is not a hippie commune but possibly their worst fears realized, a cult.
Patrick (Kentucker Audley), the photographer, goes with his sister while the other two guys stick around and decide to interview some of the members of the site known as Eden Parrish. Everyone they talk to love the place that they all created and is their version of paradise on Earth. However, a man named Father (Gene Jones) runs the place and something seems strange to the group in regards to him. They get an interview with Father but it's in front of all the residents/congregation of Eden's Parrish which is also odd. The film then takes a twist after the nights festivities where a little girl hands them a note reading "help us".
The film is pretty straight forward which is respectable as films today try to do too much with twists and finding different angles to tell their stories. Again, this is not a horror movie but a slow burning thriller and a riveting one at that. This is a film that deserves a much larger audience than it will probably get. That's too bad because Ti West has definitely proven himself as a more than capable filmmaker. After just having seen THE GIVER the day before, I couldn't help but make connections. Both films are about societies which are supposed to be idealistic paradises but in fact are not what they seem. The only difference in regards to this loosely made association is in how the films resolve their situations. In the end, THE GIVER is a really good movie whereas THE SACRAMENT is bordering on greatness.
★★★★ review by Sarah Jane 🔪 on Letterboxd
Welcome to hype city, folks. If there is a bunch of hype around a film I generally tend to stay away from it. This film fits right into that mold. I figure if there is that much hype it cannot be that great. I stayed away from this for a while now but as it was on Netflix streaming and my husband wanted to it see it, I'd give this a look.
I'm frustrated with Ti West. House of the Devil was great and I thought he should have been tapped to go onto bigger things but instead, it seems, he has decided to stay on the fringes of Hollywood and make genre pictures.
The story of The Sacrament is clearly nothing new. The poster itself tells you it is basically a retelling of the Guyana Massacre/Jim Jones story. So even though you pretty much know what is going to happen, West is able to create tension throughout the film. They probably couldn't afford 'name' actors, which is a good thing, because having a familiar face in this would have ruined it. All the actors do a fine job here.
Because Eli Roth 'presented' the film, I thought I was getting something that was full of gore but it was opposite. It is basically a 'found footage' film but don't let that stop you from watching this. Although I wouldn't call this a horror film (I would call it a thriller) I would still recommend this for your October viewing.
★★★★ review by Grimbo on Letterboxd
Ti West does it again, he is defo the master of modern horror (though he's doing a western next oddly).
This looks at a Jonestown cult type story and goes the found footage route which works.
I must be so used to other recent horrors that I was surprised when Ti West didn't go down the obvious and overdone road when it comes to the ending.
★★★★½ review by Dylan Moses Griffin on Letterboxd
Right from the opening of The Sacrament, West bucks all trends of the found-footage horror subgenre by acknowledging how they all end. The found-footage genre had grown stale by the time even Paranormal Activity 2. West, as he has continually shown in his filmography, understands the genre stereotypes and tropes and how to deviate from and recreate them. In the found footage genre, there is always a certainty that everyone in this film will die, thus allowing the footage to be “found”. West begins the film by communicating directly that this is no found-footage. This footage has been cut and edited by his VICE magazine videographers, there is music playing over the film and title cards indicating that this footage was brought back by the same people who went in. By declaring direct authorship over the documentary footage, West distances the film from all other found footage films I’ve seen.
West’s films always operate not on the direct confirmation that something is wrong, but on the creeping possibilities that something might be wrong. The babysitting job in The House of the Devil might be much more nefarious than we think, this about-to-close hotel in The Innkeepers might be haunted. Even with eventual confirmation of supernatural elements towards the ends of those films, they were still terrifying because of how West was dodging audience expectations for the previous runtime. In The Sacrament, the film operates on the same creeping doubts but rather than heading into supernatural territory when you think it might, it grounds itself in the real world. In the film, a group of VICE reporters set out to document a commune in an unnamed country when their friend receives a note from his estranged sister asking for him to come visit. With a mounting sense of unease, West sees that sometimes humanity is far more terrifying than anything supernatural.
West cast known names (at least in the independent film world) with Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz and Kate Lyn Sheil. With most of the residents though there is an assuring non-actor feel to their performances. They don’t feel like characters, they feel like people. This really lends itself to not only the realism at play but in the horror of what follows. I’d be interested to know to what degree if any were there non-actors on this film.
In film there’s an immediate distrust with certain assurances like “We don’t have anything to hide.” But there is something about the motherly way Amy Seimetz, in the role of the sister Caroline, delivers these falsities that you almost believe them. Joe Swanberg and AJ Bowen act as vessels for the audience as the two key reporters on this expedition. With each of them there is either more contrived backstory to get us to root for them or simply not enough. Sam (Bowen) has a baby on the way in 2 months, and in the case of Jake (Swanberg) we know practically nothing about him. These are problems in character creation, but both performers elevate their characters by committing to the in-the-moment feel this film needs.
I’ve read plenty of valid negative reviews for the film, but it seems the thing we can all agree on is the fantastic performance from Gene Jones (the unlucky(?) gas station attendant in No Country for Old Men) as the “Father” of Eden Parish. At first he only appears in the distance as his voice booms over loudspeakers at Eden Parish, creating an immediate exalted presentation of him. This is made all the more heightened when he finally appears at the half hour mark of the film for an interview with our reporters. He dresses like a foreign dictator, charms with his southern hospitality and talks with a good ole boy drawl. Jones is absolutely magnetic in his screen presence and dialogue delivery.
The way Father deflects all the questions that Sam throws at him by playing to his audience and flipping it back on the reporters is calculative and Jones makes it all seem so easily achieved. He milks every ounce of his time in the interview to reinforce his authority over his congregation. At certain points you think he might be right. There’s a poignant race relation statement West brings up when Father asks Sam a simple question. I found myself wanting to watch a baseball game with this guy but simultaneously uncomfortable at the thought of being alone in a room with him.
The score by Tyler Bates and sound design by Graham Reznick combine for a lurking presence throughout. It accents the unease of the film without disrupting the documentary feel of it. The film does begin to crumble after scrutiny on some of the documentary logic during the film. At various points in the film it gives off the impression of using more cameras than the reporters have. To West’s credit though, this didn’t even occur to me while I was watching the film due to the gripping atmosphere and pacing.
There is plenty to debate about this film. Does it go too far in the gratuity of the 3rd act? Does it get too uncomfortably close in the obvious inspiration from The Jonestown Massacre? Unfortunately it will take more time to even-handedly analyze these aspects of the film. What I do know as I write this is that this is another effective entry into West’s filmography, further establishing him as the most authentic voice in horror today.
★★★★ review by Jim Drew on Letterboxd
A strong start to Glasgow FrightFest '14 continued with the latest film from popular director Ti West.
Now this was one film I was fairly clued in on before it started. Though I expected a more traditional 'found footage' horror film set within the world of religious cults, it was surprising to actually be watching more of a faux documentary.
The great pairing of AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg play two internet journalists journeying to a remote commune to help a friend reunite with his sister within. They and their cameras are met with suspicion but earn enough trust to arrange an interview with enigmatic leader Father (a terrific Gene Jones).
West kept me guessing as to where this is all heading but once we start to realise, that didn't stop me being horrified when things turn dark.
I know Eli Roth gets a lot of stick but his role as producer on indie projects should get more praise. He basically financed this and kept his beak out. West gets final cut and creative freedom. Wish there was more of that.
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