Director: Ti West
Stars: Adam Wingard, AJ Bowen, Gene Jones, Amy Seimetz
Stick to atheism
I think the less you know about the Jonestown incident before seeing The Sacrament, the more effective the film is. I actually knew about the real-life incident before viewing the film, however it still came across in the film as something shocking and disturbing. After seeing Ti West’s flat effort at a ghost story in, The Innkeepers, I was keeping my expectations low for his feature length follow-up, however I was actually very pleasantly surprised. The Sacrament is one of the best found footage films we’ve seen from America in quite a while.
The Sacrament isn’t about zombies, ghosts or trolls. Instead, it’s the intriguing story of an isolated cult which manages to avoid a lot of the cheap thrills and clichés which found footage films have associated with them. I actually really liked the found footage angle it had as it heightened the feeling of isolation. It makes the audience feel like intruders, thus adding to the sense of mystery. Of course there are a few occasions where the victims pick up the camera before running for their lives, but it’s a contrivance which is difficult to avoid and luckily it isn’t actually too distracting.
Ti West is known for his slow-burning horror films, however I don’t think The Innkeepers worked well as a slow-burner at all so I was preparing myself for boredom. Conversely, I didn’t find one minute of The Sacrament boring at all. The first half does a fantastic job of building intrigue and atmosphere. From the moment we arrive on Eden Parish we know that something is menacing is lurking. We chat to the cult members who all seem jolly about the life they’ve created for themselves and it is interesting to watch. At times, The Sacrament does feel like a genuine documentary which adds to the disturbing reality underneath it.
Things take proper turn for the sinister when we meet the mysterious leader played by the coin toss man in No Country for Old Men! Gene Jones plays him splendidly creepily and comes across a genuine religious nutter. The dialogue Ti West creates for him also feels very authentic which makes for chilling viewing. It’s the final half hour which is the most disturbing to view though, as the film goes down a route you wouldn’t really expect and breaks typical horror movie conventions.
I can’t say that the idea is original because it’s quite clearly based on true events, but it is original to use it in the way it’s done here. There are some very unsettling scenes which managed to get right underneath my skin. I found the music very effective too in creating a depressive atmosphere that is difficult to shake off. When the film was over I felt genuinely unsettled which is something I don’t feel with most modern horror films from America. It also manages to be disturbing without feeling gratuitous.
The Sacrament is a truly horrifying experience, although it doesn’t pan out in the way you think it might. It manages to build up a sense of intrigue and realism which makes the third act all the more effective and powerful. I would’ve liked some better character development and fewer contrivances, but overall The Sacrament is an effective horror film which has the power to unsettle and disturb.