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John’s Horror Corner: The Sacrament (2014), with an excellent mid-movie atmosphere and cult setting, but a terribly executed “Jonestown Massacre” ending that left a bad taste in my mouth.

March 5, 2015

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Did Ti West seriously just sit back and let the marketers put a spoiler on the movie poster!?!?!  “Live as one. DIE as one.”

MY CALL:  Very much a mixed bag.  The ending…so terrible…the cult leader’s mid-movie performance…so effing beautiful…it’s like watching a unicorn thrashing around in a puddle of shit.  You hate the smell, but you can appreciate the beauty of the beast.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The Sacrament: There are better films about cults out there, I’m sure I just can’t think of most of them.  It’s not horror, but how about the mysteriously atmospheric Sound of My Voice (2011)?  It was great!  And I’m no fan of Red State (2011), which is more on the brutal side, but it has no less to offer than this film.

1A recent review (by our MoviesFilmsandFlix founder) rightly summarized this film as predictable and “middle of the pack” and something which veered far from the Ti West standard of atmospheric suspense.  While I totally agree with the first part of this criticism (not the atmosphere part), I feel there were things that West accomplished making this film worthwhile.  The Sacrament is a film that begins with good intentions, middles into an effective brainwashed atmosphere of a delusory paradise, but ends poorly.

Sacrament-Eden-Parish-Sign

Our story begins when a film crew (including A. J. Bowen of The Guest, You’re Next, Chillerama and Joe Swanberg of V/H/S, Cabin Fever 2) travels to another country (probably in South America) where a crew member’s sister (Amy Seimetz; You’re Next) has traveled with her commune to set their roots in Eden Parish and give up all their worldly belongings to the financial discretion of a man they call Father (Gene Jones; Oz the Great and Powerful).  Father, how about that?  That’s not shady at all, is it?  Father is a southern, mild-mannered, elderly fellow who feels like a mix of a tent evangelist-soul healer, a plantation owner, and someone you’d find on a park bench in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) sipping a mint julep while walking an overly-groomed terrier.  The air about him wreaks of pleasantly-mannered manipulation and overtones of a semi-humble Messiah complex.  He seems, at times, to be simultaneously simple yet clearly quite methodical.

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He comes out into the crowd like a humble rock star.

The-Sacraments

“Father is a southern, mild-mannered, elderly fellow who feels like a mix of a tent evangelist-soul healer, a plantation owner, and someone you’d find on a park bench in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) sipping a mint julep while walking an overly-groomed terrier.”

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He warms up the crowd with a lot of hand waving and applause like one of those electric guitar-toting ministers.

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The film crew sets out to investigate the nature of Father’s paradise Eden Parish, and Father does a fine job manipulating his interviewer into joining his audience as he grandstands (in lieu of answering questions) about the villainy of their past materialistic lives of sin and their enlightened way of life and togetherness in which they now bask.  And the lord of the baskers, Father, is so pleased with himself as he presents his sermon–like a well-fed lizard warming its belly on a hot stone.  But as our crew meets more parishioners, there are a few red flags in paradise denoting that the peacekeeping and serenity may be managed more with fear and brainwashing than a happy sense of community.  All of this is executed very well and it crafts an unnerving atmosphere, even when they present the obvious mute girl who would undoubtedly reveal something later (i.e., a classic harbinger trope).  But this is where we lose sight and things falls apart for both Father and Ti West alike.

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“Something’s just not right about these people.”

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“Something’s just not right about the third act of this story!”

Eventually the shit hits the fan and, with it, so does all of the cult credibility that “the interview scene” had so strongly edified with a tone of unflagging fanatical mania.  I can’t help but to think that Father’s protective and paranoid nature wouldn’t have circumvented the invasive film crew’s motives and their effect on his proselytized followers.  Surely Father would have previously overcome other investigators, cult de-programmers, concerned family members and the like, and probably more savvy ones than we meet in this film who come unprepared to another continent in a wilderness seemingly devoid any law or rule outside of Father’s word.

To avoid dwelling on the particulars of the tragic ending, I’ll just say that by the middle of this film I was captivated by Father’s ability to deceive and distort and misguide, and by the end I was completely underwhelmed by a weakly executed massacre that came about with all of the preparation and build-up of someone randomly pulling a middle school fire alarm.  I was waiting for the grand revelation  behind Father’s cult…a demon of some sort, devil worship, human sacrifices (perhaps the invited film crew), possession, preparation for the apocalypse…?  There was none; no mystery at all to be found.  Very disappointing. VERY.

the-sacrament

Directed by Ti West (The Innkeepers, House of the Devil, V/H/S, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever) and produced by Eli Roth (Hostel, Green Inferno), The Sacrament is a found footage-style mixed bag based on (or, more accurately, strongly modeled after) the true story of a cult that relocated to Guyana and committed mass suicide, known as the Jonestown Massacre of 1978.  In the end, the only thing this film brought to the table was a great mid-movie performance by Gene Jones and a solid culty atmosphere.  And while these positive aspects do occupy about the middle 50% of the film, they alone don’t make this film recommendable to the general horror audience.  It was worth it to me, though.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 5, 2015 9:16 am

    I liked this movie but couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted to be watching The House of The Devil again for the umpteenth time instead. Great review my friend, as always.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      March 5, 2015 9:24 am

      I wish I could magically see this again with an ending that did the middle justice.

  2. March 5, 2015 9:38 am

    I love this line “Father, is so pleased with himself as he presents his sermon–like a well-fed lizard warming its belly on a hot stone.”

    • John Leavengood permalink
      March 6, 2015 10:38 am

      Father is basically my friend’s overfed Savannah Monitor lizard with it’s hot rock.

  3. March 6, 2015 12:33 am

    Good review. Ti West has been better. But this was fine. Just as it is.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      March 6, 2015 10:38 am

      If I were to average the awesomeness of the 2nd act with the dullness of the 3rd, I’d arrive to a mean that was a decent experience. But endings ruin movies for many viewers…hence my not directly recommending it. I noticed the same with Wer and Afflicted. Both started out GREAT, but ending on a lower note instead of building.

Trackbacks

  1. John’s Horror Corner INDEX: a list of all my horror reviews by movie release date | Movies, Films & Flix
  2. The MFF Podcast #4: The Sarlacc Pit, Annabelle and Jumping the horror shark | Movies, Films & Flix
  3. John’s Horror Corner: The House of the Devil (2009), style trumps substance in Ti West’s delightfully atmospheric callback to 70s and 80s occult horror. | Movies, Films & Flix
  4. John’s Horror Corner: Late Phases (2014), throwing tropes out the window to deliver a fresh indie werewolf movie with a blind elderly antihero. | Movies, Films & Flix

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