Synopsis: The Sacrament follows two Vice Media correspondents as they set out to document their friend’s journey to find his missing sister. They travel outside of the United States to an undisclosed location where they are welcomed into the world of “Eden Parish,” a self-sustained rural utopia, comprised of nearly two hundred members. At the center of this small, religious, socialist community is a mysterious leader known only as “Father.” As their friend reunites with his sister, it becomes apparent to the newcomers that this paradise may not be as it seems. What started as just another documentary shoot soon becomes a race to escape with their lives.
Release Date: June 6, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
By now, the faux-documentary trend should have run its course. Sure, filmmakers like it because it’s cheap, and actors like it because it gives them a chance to improvise a bit, but the market is so saturated with found-footage content that even if someone was to make the next Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project, it would face a huge challenge just to be seen. The Sacrament solves that problem by having huge names attached, at least behind the camera; it’s written and directed by modern horror it-boy Ti West (The Innkeepers, V/H/S) and produced by the one and only Eli Roth (Hostel, The Last Exorcism).
The Sacrament follows multimedia news reporter Sam Turner (You’re Next‘s AJ Bowen) and his cameraman, Jake Williams (Joe Swanberg from Drinking Buddies), as they accompany a fashion photographer named Patrick Carter (Team Picture‘s Kentucker Audley) to visit his sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz from Upstream Color). Caroline is a recovering drug addict who left treatment to go and live at a commune called Eden Parish. The commune knows that Patrick is coming, but is surprised by Sam and Jake. Although initially reluctant to let them in, the citizens of Eden Parish agree to let them shoot footage inside the camp and get interviews. Everyone who talks to them raves about Eden Parish, saying that it has changed their lives and they couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Caroline even sets up an interview with Father (Gene Jones from No Country for Old Men), the enigmatic leader of the commune, which takes place in front of the rest of the parish. On the surface, the residents of Eden Parish seem happy, but the longer that the outsiders are there, the more they start to think that the commune has a darker, more sinister side.
If the plot of The Sacrament sounds a little familiar, that’s because it’s basically the story of the Jonestown Massacre, a cult-related mass suicide event that took place in the seventies. It is set in modern times, and a handful of details are changed, but the main plot points are eerily similar. As a found-footage movie, The Sacrament is one of the better ones; there’s a logical reason for the cameras to be constantly rolling, yet the film manages to avoid the nausea-inspiring shaky-cam syndrome that plagues the subgenre. Of course, it can’t purport to be a genuine documentary with recognizable faces like AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, and Amy Seimetz in the film, but that’s not director Ti West’s point. He understands that it’s nearly impossible to fool the public anymore with a movie of this type, so he just makes a compelling film. And it works, for the most part.
Both Ti West and Eli Roth have reputations as horror filmmakers, but that’s misleading here. The Sacrament isn’t really a horror film. It’s got some disturbing imagery, and it has a pretty massive body count, but it’s not fair to lump it in with the rest of the horror genre because it’s a very different kind of film. There are no masked killers or mythical monsters. There are no ghosts or demons. The movie actually has the tone of a war film like Apocalypse Now or Platoon; those are the types of horrors that are shown in The Sacrament â things that can only be described as atrocities. The movie is nothing groundbreaking, but it is well made and challenges the viewer philosophically, which is more than can be said about most of the other found footage films. Plus, it’s got a third act that keeps the audience on the edge of its seat. The Sacrament is not a perfect film, but those who enjoy movies of the type could do a lot worse.
In addition to Eli Roth and Ti West, another big name in the horror world contributed to The Sacrament; the music was done by Tyler Bates, the composer who has scored just about every film for both Zack Snyder (Man Of Steel, Watchmen) and Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects, Halloween). Bates’ music for The Sacrament is typical of modern horror scores, with the same ambient drone and atonal vamp that haunts most of his other work – it’s the type of soundtrack that borders on sound design. The problem is not with the music itself, it’s with the context. The mere presence of music at all distracts from the faux-doc feeling of the film, pulling the user out of the experience. The only music that sounds organic is the handful of hymns that are sung by the Parish members. Everything else, though well written, doesn’t fit with the found-footage aesthetic that The Sacrament is trying to put forward.
Scary is not really the word for The Sacrament. It’s suspenseful, but the feeling is derived more from morbid curiosity than from any actual dread. There are very few actual scares, and the ones that are present do not carry over from the characters to the viewer – at one point, Jake says matter-of-factly “this is the most scared I’ve been in a long time,” but his fear is not believable. The Sacrament is very disturbing and affecting, particularly when things get hairiest in the third act, but not bona-fide scary. That’s not to say that it will not haunt the audience – it is the type of film that will stay in the viewer’s mind long after the credits have rolled and the lights have come up. But it’s not really fear. The Sacrament may keep people up at night thinking about its themes and messages, but not because they’re afraid to close their eyes.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Ti West
- Screenwriter(s): Ti West
- Cast: Amy Seimetz (Caroline)Joe Swanberg (Jake)Kate Lyn Shell (Sarah) AJ Bowen (Sam)Gene Jones (Father)
- Editor(s): Ti West
- Cinematographer: Eric Robbins
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Tyler Bates
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA