The Sacrament (2013)
***Mild Spoilers Ahead***
The Sacrament is the latest movie from director/writer Ti West (House Of The Devil, Cabin Fever 2, The Innkeepers) and producer Eli Roth who needs no introduction. The film stars Joe Swanberg (You're Next, V/H/S, Proxy), AJ Bowen (The Signal, House Of The Devil, Rites Of Spring), Kate Lyn Sheil (You're Next, V/H/S), Gene Jones ( No Country For Old Men, Oz The Great And Powerful) , Kentucker Audley (V/H/S) and Amy Seimetz (Bitter Feast, A Horrible Way To Die)
Sam (Bowen) and Jake (Swanberg) work for VICE, a New York based media team who deal in fringe journalism investigating the stories that no one else will. When their friend Patrick (Audley) comes to them with a bizarre story about his sister joining what sounds like a cult they agree to help him find her to make sure she's ok and cover the story while they're at it. So after a long mysterious helicopter trip to an undisclosed area outside the US and a scary ride in the back of a truck driven by men with machine guns who look like they work for an African warlord, the brave trio finally arrive at Eden Parish. Once inside the compound and past the terrifying armed guards the place seems like a hippy paradise and Patrick's sister Caroline (Seimetz) seems to think it's heaven on earth. Once they take a tour of the place they realise that the people there have everything they need - farming, a small medical centre and even a makeshift day-care centre for the children. Each member of the parish that they interview seems to love life there and wouldn't dream of leaving, and they all speak of this man known as 'Father' as if he's their saviour. Things seem peachy until they meet a mute girl called Savannah and her mother who seems to be too terrified to talk to "outsiders"...
That night the parish throw a party for the visitors and they finally get to meet Father, when he arrives the parishioners cheer and applaud him as if he was royalty. His aura reminded me of Brando's in The Island of Dr. Moreau. Before the party gets underway Father agrees to a quick interview (albeit in front of the whole parish) which starts off ok but gets more and more awkward and intimidating with each question. Later that night when Sam and Jake are chatting about how good the party is and how nicely surprised they are by the place, the mute girl Savannah approaches them and gives them a note with a message on it - a very shocking message. In the meantime Patrick is off having a threesome, strange as that sort of thing is usually frowned upon by hardcore Christians. While his two friends are searching for him they bump into his sister Caroline who reveals that the threesome was planned as a way to entice him to stay at the parish. Soon afterward they bump into Savannah again, along with her mother who begs the guys to take her daughter with them when they leave. Freaked out by everything they've discovered Sam and Jake agree to sit tight for the night and wait until the helicopter comes to bring them home the next day as planned. When they wake the following morning there is a crowd of people with their bags packed wanting to leave the parish and go with them on their helicopter ride home so chaos ensues. Father arrives on the scene not only with a plan to stop the outsiders from leaving but also a plan to stop anyone from entering their paradise again and ruining it forever.
Anyone familiar with the story of Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre of 1978 will recognise the plot of this movie and will also know the outcome. I myself never really read about Jonestown so didn't know much about what happened there, I've heard the term "Don't drink the Kool-aid" countless times before without knowing what it meant so I had to look it up. Also those funky Jim Jones t-shirts on Rotten Cotton had me curious. The Sacrament is basically the Jonestown Massacre with a different name, different people, different location and a few tweeks and changes to the story here and there. Ti West's decision to shoot it verite style was interesting and clever, it gave it a similar look to Cannibal Holocaust as we follow a documentary crew into the unknown. Interesting that Eli Roth produced it and gave it the "Eli Roth Presents" title as well, it seems Roth is fond of the found footage sub-genre as this is the third film of that style that he has "presented"- the others being The Last Exorcism and Aftershock. This leads me to wonder if Roth's forthcoming movie The Green Inferno which is no doubt a tribute to Cannibal Holocaust and the cannibal films of the 70s and 80s will be a found-footage style movie as well? The teaser trailer released so far doesn’t make it clear but either way I can't wait for it. So back to The Sacrament, this isn't Ti West's first outing in the found-footage sub-genre either. He previously directed the 'Second Honeymoon' segment of the 2012 anthology V/H/S which also features some of the cast of The Sacrament. Personally I thought his story was the weakest of the lot in V/H/S but it was still enjoyable. I thought the same about his segment in The ABCs Of Death anthology 'M Is For Miscarriage' so that's two strikes, maybe West should stay away from anthologies and stick to what he's good at and just direct feature films? I don't think The Sacrament has the rewatch value that Ti West's other films like House Of The Devil has but I still enjoyed the hell (no pun intended) out of it. Another stellar performance from AJ Bowen who I think is quickly becoming a horror icon and will soon be up there with the likes of Bill Moseley and Jeffrey Combs. Some great performances from the rest of the cast especially Gene Jones as Father- a hilarious casting choice to get someone called Gene Jones to play the part of the Jim Jones character! Anyone into religious/cult movies like Red State, Holy Ghost People, Martha Marcy May Marlene or even Rosemary's Baby or The Wicker Man should enjoy The Sacrament. Fans of Ti West should definitely like it as this is one of his better movies; once again he gets it right with a little help from his friends and without studio interference.