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The Sacrament – 7


Director – Ti West

Cast – AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones, Kate Lyn Sheil, Kentucker Audley, Donna Biscoe

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

The Sacrament is a film I had been following for quite some time, and that is because I am a fan of writer/director Ti West. He hit the scene with The Roost in 2005, but he stormed the genre with his 2009 70s babysitter film The House of the Devil. He solidified his ability to deliver good horror with 2011’s highly enjoyable The Innkeepers, so naturally I was excited for his newest effort, The Sacrament. I refrained from watching trailers and reading spoiler-filled reviews, so all I knew about the film was that it involved a cult of some sort, and I was excited to see what Ti West would do with such a story. Well, after spending 10 freakin’ dollars to rent this film I can say that The Sacrament was far from the film I expected it to be. It is a good flick and accomplishes what it set out to do, but the one question I keep asking myself is, “Ti West, WHY?”.

When Patrick solicits Sam and Jake, two VICE reporters, to travel with him in search of his missing sister they immediately jump on the opportunity to film their next documentary. Once a wayward drug addict, Patrick’s sister, Caroline, joined a secluded sober living community in rural Mississippi, and soon afterward she left the country to join the community at an undisclosed location. When they arrive at the isolated compound they soon realize that the “Heavenly” community, run by the charismatic “Father”, is not what it seems. What started as just another documentary will now become a horror they never saw coming.

Ti Wests’s story takes off quickly. After a small introduction by the film crew regarding what they plan to do they immediately arrive at the undisclosed location somewhere outside of the US border. Patrick, Sam, and Jake are immediately confronted by men welding AK-47s, but are then allowed into the compound when Patrick’s sister Caroline vouches for their admittance. The protagonists (and viewers) are thrown for a loop when Caroline hits the screen, as she looks healthy and happy, which is far from the condition they expected to find her in, IF they even found her. She speaks of how great the community of Eden Parish is, and how nothing they have would be possible without “Father”, who they will get a chance to meet later on in the evening. Patrick disappears with his sister and the filmmakers begin to do their work. There is much antagonism from the locals regarding the camera, and it is obvious they strongly fear outsiders and how the media will portray them. They eventually interview several members of the parish who speak highly of what they have accomplished without society’s influence, and it appears the parish could very well be Heaven on Earth. You notice early on that the residents come from different races and demographics, from upper middle class folks to those that finally made it out of the ghetto. That evening the community put together a large celebration for their new guests, and they were also afforded an exclusive interview with “Father”. “Father” is just how you would expect him to be – charismatic, well-spoken, but nowhere near the psychotic person you would expect to lead a cult; at least, not at first. Before long the filmmakers begin to realize that there is something very wrong going on in the community, and from then on out the remainder of the film is all out Hell.

The story felt like it moved quicker than the usual Ti West story, and those who have seen his films know what I mean. We first see Father about 31 minutes into the filmflick and I can say that Ti West wrote him beautifully. His dialogue was amazing, and it not only captivated the filmmakers but captivated myself as well. It is during this long nighttime sequence that the first hint of horror occurs about 15 minutes later, and that is when my heart began beating at an accelerated pace. The pacing picks up and we are constantly bombarded with hints that there is something very wrong going on within the parish. This tension lasts through the remainder of the night and on to the next day, giving us both night and daytime terror. It is during the film’s final act though that the horror reaches its highest levels, and also reveals just the type of film this is. I would not call this a revelation, as it did not feel like a surprise, but considering I did not know what to expect I was left in shock at the film this became. I wish I could explain this better to you but that would be hard to do without delivering some serious spoilers, so let me just say that this “horror” film is hardly a horror film in the end. You can say that the first two acts of the film develop the horror quite well, and we are left to believe that the impending horror will be of a certain nature, but myself and the friend I watched it with were both thrown through a loop when the parish’s big secret was unveiled.

While I am still questioning why Ti West went with this storyline, I must say that his direction was superb. This is his first full-length film shot in the mockumentary format, but this is not a found footage flick. There are no scenes delivered by shaky cameras and because the actors are part of a real film crew we are treated to a professional production and not an amateur one like the Paranormal Activity films. The sets used for the compound were simple but effective and had me feeling immersed into the community with our protagonists. There are some fair character performances, but nobody topped Gene Jones as Father. His performance was tremendous and if horror had its Oscars I could see him easily snagging Best Actor if nobody else steps up. Amy Seimetz did well as Caroline, but what disappointed me was seeing neither of our lead actors take the reins. You may remember AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg from You’re Next and A Horrible Way to Die, and it appears these guys are regulars within the Adam Wingard circle. Their performances were not bad by any means, but neither served as a commanding presence. The highlights of West’s direction do not stop at his execution of Father, but his execution of the horror. When things got going during the second act he literally had my buddy and I hanging on the edges of our seats, glued to my laptop. His execution during the final act still managed to keep the tension despite seeing where the story was going to take us, and he did so with several gut wrenching kills adorned with solid live gore. West has proved to be a solid director in the genre with at least 4 great full-length horror films under his belt, and all within a 10 year span. The Sacrament may not have been what I expected, but it is great to see his direction is still top-notch.

Overall, The Sacrament is a good film that accomplishes what it set out to do. The problem with this is you are most likely going to get a film unlike what you are expecting. By the end of the experience you will find yourself wondering whether or not this is even a horror film, or a pseudo re-enactment of a famous ordeal from our past. West’s direction is good and his story allows for some good moments of horror, but keep in mind that this may not be for everyone, especially those looking for a solid horror experience like West’s previous films.

Rating: 7/10

…Additional Stills…

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