Review: The Sacrament (2014)

Ti West's take on the horrors of unhealthy religious addiction.

The Sacrament (2014)
Directed by: Ti West
Written by: Ti West
Starring: Joe Swanberg, Gene Jones, AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz

4 Knives

Does Ti West just get to do whatever he wants? It seems like ever since he disowned Cabin Fever 2 due to studio meddling the guy’s got some sort of golden ticket. He writes and directs all of his projects and appears to be at liberty to create his own artistic vision with a minimum of interruption. I loved his 2009 film The House of the Devil and I found his follow-up, 2011’s The Innkeepers, to be at the very least a well-made, tension-filled horror film, even if it was a bit predictable. West is immensely talented, no doubt, and that talent shines through in his newest project, The Sacrament.

Yes, the flick employs the found-footage angle, but this time there’s a bit of a twist on it: The Sacrament is presented in the guise of a Vice documentary. Vice is, of course, the infamous underground news outlet fixated on delivering investigative journalism about subjects most would consider to be uncomfortable, difficult, or taboo. I think the addition of a real news provider anchors viewers in the movie’s own reality in a way other found-footage films are unable to. There’s an explicit reason why the camera never stops running and why it always seems to be pointed at the action.

The Sacrament chronicles the trip of three Vice reporters to an undisclosed area of the world where they attempt to “rescue” one of the reporter’s sisters from what is assumed to be a kind of isolated, hippie commune. Of course, these three guys get more than they bargained for when they find out that this commune, led by the seemingly benevolent Father, is anything but peaceful.

The Sacrament is a tense movie. West is adept at creating moods that are equally provocative and also exactly what they appear to be. It seems that at any moment, something terrible is going to happen, but West isn’t that predictable. The Sacrament isn’t a gore-fest, full of jump-out scares, blood-squirting, and cheap frights. Through the arguably bland conceit of found-footage, West manages to keep viewers right where he wants them, at all times. The Sacrament depicts real life horrors, with Father’s intuitiveness being the only thing that seems even remotely supernatural. And West’s signature tension (see The Innkeepers) builds inexorably to an almost unwatchable climax. I say unwatchable because what West shows us not overly violent (in the sense of typical horror fare) or fantastic: it’s something terribly despicable that human beings are absolutely capable of. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but if you know anything about cult activity since the 1970’s, you’ll understand what’s happening. However, that knowledge doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable.

Gene Jones is the stand-out actor here in his portrayal of Father. You may remember him from his bit role in No Country For Old Men, as the shopkeeper Chigurh intimidates. In The Sacrament, Jones shows his real ability as an actor, mesmerizing viewers as the omnipotent, menacing, yet oddly magnetic cult leader.

The Sacrament is yet another feather in Ti West’s ever-enlarging cap. Some people may scoff at the ending’s predictability, but that would be missing the point. The Sacrament‘s strongest moments are in the build-up towards the inevitable, gut-wrenching ending. West is still a young filmmaker, but within a few short years he has already proven that he is poised to be at the very top of his game before the rest of the independent horror world even has time to even blink. I’m following his career with great interest and enjoyment and I think it behooves all fans of horror to do the same. Artists like Ti West need to be encouraged and supported. Maybe everything they release isn’t a five-star blockbuster. But West is adept at scaring us in ways we don’t really expect. And isn’t that what makes watching a scary movie so much fun?

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