Ti West’s ‘The Sacrament’ is Effective Found-Footage Horror

by Brian Reeves on June 19, 2014

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Minor Rock Fist Up]

Generally speaking, I can’t stand “found-footage” horror movies. Between the constantly shaking camera and questionable motivations for characters to keep shooting video in life-threatening situations, I usually find them to be tedious at best and downright unwatchable at their worst. So I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed The Sacrament, the latest film from budding horror director Ti West (The Innkeepers, The House of the Devil)

The basics: Patrick (Kentucker Audley) has received a letter from his sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz). In it, Caroline, talks vaguely about a wonderful commune where she has been living since leaving drug rehab. Patrick decides he’s going to find her. He enlists his friends, Jake and Sam (Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen) from real-life Vice, to come along and document the reunion.

The search for Caroline takes them deep into the jungle of some unnamed third-world country. There the trio finds the commune of Eden Parish. Patrick finds his sister happier and healthier then he’s seen her in a long time. All of the people Jake and Sam interview speak in glowing terms about both the commune, and a person they all refer to as Father (Gene Jones). It soon becomes pretty obvious that what we are dealing with is more cult than happy hippy living. The events that unfold begin to reveal the true nature of Eden Parish.

The film moves at a very slow pace, and is really pretty dull until we are introduced to Father. Jones’ portrayal of the charismatic cult leader is without a doubt the best part of The Sacrament. He feels real and keeps the whole idea that what you are seeing is a documentary from falling apart. His performance alone makes the movie worth a watch.

The Sacrament saves most of its gorier and more violent moments until late in the game. This decision really raises their impact, and a few of them are exceptionally well done. The payoff is good enough for those with the patience to get there.

All of this does not mean The Sacrament doesn’t have it flaws. It most certainly does, and some are pretty sizable. In an effort to not spoil anything, I’ll just say that the story is not original in any way. In fact it’s not its own story at all, it’s really just a fictionalized version of an actual event that most anyone with even a passing knowledge of history will know.

The typical horror-movie problem of people constantly making dumb decisions to make their situation worse, or ignoring obvious warning signs of danger, is ever present.

Some of the dialogue is just as bad too. At one point someone is told, “If you keep sticking your hand in the dog’s bowl don’t be surprised when you get bit.” Their response afterward, “What does that mean, do you think it was a threat?” Uh yeah, Sherlock, I’m pretty sure that’s a threat.

Found-footage purists, if there is such a thing, will probably have issues with the film too. There are plenty of moments in the movie that would require multiple cameras and equipment to shoot, and it uses a musical score as well. None of this bothered me in the least, but if you’re looking for precise realism in your found footage, you won’t find it here.

Ultimately, The Sacrament’s shortcomings were not enough to keep me from enjoying it. I cannot stress enough how engaging Gene Jones is in the film, and there’s plenty of emotional and gory punch to the climax of the movie. I give The Sacrament a Minor Rock Fist Up. It’s not always great, but it’s much better than most of its genre counterparts.

Brian loves horror movies, old-school heavy metal, and beer — not necessarily in that order. He also digs all the Nightmare on Elm Street movies and is willing to fight people who actually think the Paranormal Activity series is scary because it’s not.

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