“Halloween Twenty-Fifteen”: A Review of “The Sacrament” (2013)

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If you’ve seen one “found footage” horror film, you’ve seen ’em all, and that pretty much applies to Ti West’s underwhelming venture, The Sacrament. I was really looking forward to this one, especially after having been blown away by his earlier work House of the Devil and enjoying The Innkeepers. What we have here is a project that had so much potential but just fell short of the mark. The “found footage” genre of horror is a tired one, with seemingly nothing new that can be accomplished, and quite regularly ending up being redundant. Not even West, who I consider one of the most competent horror directors of this generation was able to resurrect this overused genre. Don’t get me wrong, The Sacrament does not suck, not at all, and I appreciate what West tried to achieve. I’m just a bit confused by the finished product.  That is the word I would use to describe the project in general: confused.

This movie is based closely on Jim Jones and the Peoples’ Temple, a religious cult which gained notoriety by committing mass (and forced) suicide in their Jonestown compound in Guyana in 1978. It was there they sought an escape from the harms of the modern world, in isolation. If you know their story, then you know the plot of this film. Set in modern times, with the name changed to “Eden Parish” and the Jones-type character simply known as “Father” (Gene Jones), they are being probed by a camera crew from a popular magazine after one of their writers is invited down by his sister, a member of the parish. At first, the people appear to be living in perfect harmony, but as we all know, things are anything but normal.

We soon learn that Father is a drug-addicted paranoiac who controls his flock with an iron grip. You can guess what happens when people want to leave. In some instances, this is a shot-by-shot recreation of newsreel footage we have seen and even in the History Channel documentary Jonestown: Paradise Lost (2007). There is an almost minuscule horror element here, which involves some bloody images, but I am reluctant to call it horror (in my eyes, it was literally a cut or two away from being PG-13). It suffers from an identity crisis, and clocking in at nearly 100 minutes, could have used a few scenes hitting the cutting room floor.

It’s almost like West wanted to make a historical piece here but was bound to his normal genre. So what we get is something that is not exactly historical and not exactly horror, and certainly not scary except in the concept of being trapped inside a cult. Once again, this is not a bad film and the performance by Jones in the Father role is convincing. It is my opinion that West should have just made this a historical film about Jonestown. He certainly did the research and has the talent to pull it off. Instead, all he did was make a movie that a lot of people will find difficult to like, and no one will really remember. Also starring are Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Kentucker Audley, and Amy Seimetz. Produced by Eli Roth.

6.5 out of 10 stars.

More articles in this special “Halloween Twenty-Fifteen” column can be found here.

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