Kate Lyn Sheil
Ti West burst onto the horror scene in 2009 with the incredible House Of The Devil. While it ended up being a polarizing film for many who were not used to, or are not fans of, slow burn horror, but those who stuck with the film were rewarded with an intensely creepy film that heralded the arrival of a great new filmmaker working in our genre. He followed this up with Cabin Fever 2: Spring Break, the sequel to the popular Eli Roth film. Although he did go on record as publically disowning the film due to heavy studio interference and re-editing, so many do not consider that a part of his resume. He contributed segments to both the original V/H/S and The ABC’s Of Death while also helming 2011’s The Innkeepers. Working with essentially a cast of two (the incredibly talented and always reliable Pat Healy and Sara Paxton) he crafted another well received masterpiece of slow-burn horror, showing that his work on House Of The Devil was not a fluke. Many will also recognize him in the small role of Tariq in the phenomenal You’re Next (Check out The Deadhouse’s review here) where he worked with perennial genre favorites Barbara Crampton, Joe Swanberg and AJ Bowen. In 2013, he returned to feature film directing with The Sacrament starring many favorites from this new clique of popular genre actors including the aforementioned Bowen, Swanberg as well as Amy Seimetz, who has been in many films with the others, including You’re Next and A Horrible Way To Die.
The Sacrament premiered at the Venice Film Festival late last year and was met with a huge reaction from the genre community. Given that West has become one of the most popular directors working in the genre today, plus his cast of mainstays, it was expected that the film would do well, but it appeared it was surpassing many peoples expectation. The buzz on social media was absolutely incredible, and I have been wanting to see the film for many months. The film, as many others have recently been doing, had entered into a split theatrical and VOD release model, and the word stayed positive.
Taking his inspiration from the infamous 1978 Jonestown massacre, The Sacrament tells the story of Eden Parish, a small commune that is kept extremely hidden from the general world. Patrick (Kentucker Audley) is a freelance photographer who receives a letter from his sister who is living at Eden Parish after leaving rehab. Given that Patrick works for VICE, a media company that focuses on investigative reports, they see a story in this, so Sam (AJ Bowen) who is one of the heads of VICE, and their cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg) join Patrick on the trip to find his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz). After some tense scenes with their arrival, Caroline welcomes them to the Parish and goes off with Patrick. This leaves Sam and Jake to interview a few members of the Parish about how they came to Eden Parish. Of course, they all tell stories of hope and how it is the greatest place they’ve ever been. As time wears on, the group becomes increasingly suspicious of everything, and they are granted an interview with the leader of the Parish, simply known as Father (Gene Jones). At sundown there is a gathering of everyone at the Parish, where Father grants an interview, giving background on himself and the reasoning behind the isolation and establishment of Eden Parish. After an awkward interview, the Parish takes place in a party when things begin becoming creepy and creepier, as Jake and Sam realize that there is more than meets the eye.
First and foremost, the casting of Gene Jones as Father is an absolute revelation. Given that his biggest role to date before this film was as a gas station proprietor in No Country For Old Men, he takes the role of Father and portrays one of the absolute creepiest characters I’ve ever seen in a film. I can only hope that the man is given more opportunities in the future, as he is phenomenal in this role. As should always be expected, AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg are wonderful in their roles, moving with ease from being the intrigued reporters to being the understandably terrified victims of a crazed cult. Amy Seimetz is another standout, playing the role of a brainwashed follower pitch perfect. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Kentucker Adley, not due to a potential lack of talent, but simply because his character is relegated to the background and given almost nothing to do throughout, which is especially odd given that his character is almost the catalyst wholly responsible for the events that ensue.
The film manages to balance the overdone found-footage trope and traditional cinematography, credit must go to Eric Robbins who does a great job as the film’s cinematographer, as well as the editing done by Ti West himself. Most films with the found footage idea usually bounce around and use it as an excuse to have a shoddier looking film, but even during the scenes where Jake is running with the camera, the film never looks anything less than stellar. The film’s score by Tyler Bates is also rather well-done, very low key which works in sync with the film rather well, as something bombastic would most certainly ruin some of the more dramatic and disturbing scenes.
Speaking of disturbing scenes, late in the film there are quite a few. There are no scenes of gore or even violence that would elicit anything higher than a PG-13 rating, but the scenes are so well directed and executed that they have the ability to shock you to your very core. At the risk of entering spoiler territory, there are scenes that involve the camp’s children that can only be described as chilling.
Overall, Ti West once again shows why he is considered one of the best young directors working these days. It appears that his next film is going to be a Western revenge style film with some A-list names. While I am happy to see him getting bigger budgets and the opportunity to work with bigger stars, I can only hope that he does not abandon the genre, as it is more than clear that he has much more to offer, and many more stories to tell and help show the more sophisticated side of our genre.
The Sacrament is currently available through different VOD providers and if you’re lucky, in theatres as well!
Just don’t drink the punch.