Movie Review - The Sacrament
I have to start off with a confession, I want to admit that up until now I haven't really been a fan of Ti West's films. It's not that I hated them, and I didn't think that he was untalented. In fact it was quite the contrary, I actually found him to be incredibly adept at creating an atmosphere that lends itself well to his slow-burn style of directing, but I had issues with the pacing in some of his previous outings. All the same, in all of these films I saw the makings of an extremely talented writer-director who had yet to find the right story to showcase his talents. The Sacrament, now available on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video, is that story. And I am happy to say that Ti West knocks this one out of the park, and completely won this reviewer over.
The Sacrament is clearly inspired by the legendary Jonestown Massacre in Guyana on November 18th, 1978. In fact the film follows the story fairly closely. Sam (AJ Bowen) is a reporter for Vice Magazine, who joins his close friend Patrick (Kentucker Audley) and Vice camera man Jake (Joe Swanberg) on a trip to find Patrick's missing sister. The journey leads them to Eden Parish, a commune led by a charismatic older man called Father (Gene Jones). Once inside they find a peaceful community of people, all of whom seem completely enamored with the commune and with Father. But it isn't long before the facade begins to crack, revealing something sinister lying just beneath the surface.
The entire cast turn is absolutely pitch perfect from beginning to end. The always charming AJ Bowen turns in his finest and most subtle work to date. Joe Swanberg (who must work every single day of his life) seems to be growing by leaps and bounds as an actor, turning in another refined performance as Jake. But nothing can compare to the master class put on by Gene Jones as Father. His presence looms largely over the entire compound before he even appears on screen, and once he does, Jones is a tour-de-force. His larger than life personality dominates every frame, and once we see how charismatic Father is, and how strong his hold is over the congregation, the imminent danger becomes apparent. Across the board, the ensemble is truly remarkable.
Though the film is being billed as another found footage film, it feels much more like a documentary, which is why it works. Under the guise of being shot as a doc for Vice magazine, West is able to justify beautiful camera work instead of the shaky-cam style seen in films like The Blair Witch Project. Although there is some of the latter as well, its used only when the story calls for it, and this restraint shown by the director is what sets this movie apart. He also nails the perfect pace for the action, building the tension slowly but steadily to an explosive final act that will shock you. This really is a well-crafted piece of film making.
This is definitely one of my favorite films of the year so far, and think it would appeal to both horror fans and movie lovers in general. Touching on themes of religious fanaticism, faith, and family, this isn't your typical horror film, it goes much deeper than that. I can't say enough good things about the power-house performance of Gene Jones, but the director deserves just as much credit for the films success. And with that, Ti West has found himself a new fan. The Sacrament is available now on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video and will be in theaters in June, and I for one will be seeing it again on the big screen when I have the chance. I suggest you do the same. Cheers.
- Leo Francis