The Sacrament (2013)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #254

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: 1 May 2014
Genre: Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $4,000,000
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Ti West
Producers: Eli Roth, Peter Phok, Molly Conners, Christopher Woodrow, Jacob Jaffke
Screenplay: Ti West
Special Effects: Brian Spears
Visual Effects: Neal Jonas, Tammy Sutton
Cinematography: Eric Robbins
Score: Tyler Bates
Editing: Ti West
Studios: Worldview Entertainment, Arcade Pictures
Distributors: Magnet Releasing, Magnolia Home Entertainment
Stars: Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Kentucker Audley, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones, Kate Lyn Sheil, Shawn Parsons, Donna Biscoe, Shaun Clay, Talia Dobbins, Debi Day, Shirley Jones Byrd, Carolyn McIver, Kate Forbes, Christian Ojore Mayfield

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Suggested Audio Candy

Brian Jonestown Massacre “Anemone”

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I make no secret of my admiration for Ti West. For the past few years he has quietly been building up a head of steam and was, of course, responsible for bringing us Keeper’s personal darling of post-millennia horror in the glorious The House of the Devil as well as solid ghost story The Innkeepers. He has many rabbits up his lengthy sleeve and each of his films has a different feel to the last which shows that this pony knows far more than just the one trick. The Sacrament is his latest pursuit and, while unlikely to set cash registers on fire initially, it will likely amass a cult following once word gets around. I’m more than happy to oblige in that area.

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For this one, West dons his historical cap and chooses to enlighten us as to the events of the infamous Jonestown massacre of 1978, one of the largest mass suicides in history. He follows three documentarians, Jake (Joe Swanberg), Sam (AJ Bowen) and Patrick (Kentucker Audley) as they make a trip into the deepest forest to pay a visit to Patrick’s sister. She has given up her everyday to life to join a religious community at an idyllic-looking religious commune called Eden Parrish and Patrick is hoping to talk her into coming back to the States with him. At first glance it appears that the inhabitants are content and have no inclination to leaving their utopia.

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A huge factor in their decision comes from the reverence they share towards the messianic dictator known simply as Father; an aging businessman who has persuaded each to surrender their life savings in order to make his dream a reality. The promised pay-off is a community free of prejudice, technology and any of the problems it brings. Families have helped build the Parrish from the ground up and this has provided them with an unparalleled sense of ownership and pride in what they have augmented together. Some of them are forthcoming with their gushing praise of Father and his methods whereas others are a little less willing to divulge.

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Father agrees to an interview with Jake and Sam on the proviso that it be conducted in front of the entire congregation. This is where the warning signs really begin to become apparent. He’s one smooth motherfucker you see, moreover, he has an answer for everything and often a question of his own for any uncomfortable poser pitched to him. He speaks of corrupt American legislation and how his Parrish isn’t governed by such imperialistic claptrap. His minions applaud Father’s every statement and this leaves Sam soundly thrown from asking the questions he really wishes to ask. It also leaves a bitter aftertaste and he hasn’t even tasted their Kool-Aid yet.

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West creates a most believable scenario; Eden Parrish is depicted as paradise and the lush green setting certainly stakes good claim over why so many have banished their everyday existence in favor of this land of the free. However, it is the casting which truly gives The Sacrament its edge. Swanberg and Bowen are regulars within West’s intimate circle and both have impressed on numerous occasions before, particularly Bowen who was wonderfully menacing in House of The Devil. They both come up trumps for West and give superb accounts of themselves as does Amy Seimetz as Patrick’s deluded sibling.

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However, it is Father who holds the cards here and, much as with the great Michael Parks in Kevin Smith’s similar Red State, Gene Jones gives a chilling turn as the smiling assassin who has brainwashed the entire commune. His silver tongue cries freedom but does so with an underlying current of menace which becomes more apparent as events continue to intensify. The outsiders have upset his apple cart and he has no intention of allowing them to compromise all he has worked to achieve. In short, Jones is utterly transcendent, and his turn is what leaves the strongest lasting impression, precisely as it should.

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Plausibility is vital to a project such as this and West wisely decides against shooting the out-and-out horror so many will be expecting. There are no concealed horns waiting to sprout from his forehead at any given moment and instead the focus is on (in)humanity and the cruelty that derives from disillusioned leadership. The final act is breathless but realism is never sacrificed and that shows West’s maturity as a film-maker. It is shocking and heartbreaking in equal measures and guaranteed to leave you reeling come the closing credits as the full extent of Father’s hold over his people is brought to the fore.

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The Sacrament is what I would call a film, not a movie. It is well structured, paced and played and complimented by sweeping cinematography courtesy of Eric Robbins which shows the wide expanse of this fool’s paradise in all its contorted beauty. In addition, the quietly effective score by Tyler Bates is never intrusive but adds an extra level of suspense and disillusionment. The film won’t appeal to all and I’m sure a small quarter of his rapidly growing fan base will be dismayed by his temporary detour from horror. For those of you content with a compelling storyline and slow-choking trepidation, you’ve very much come to the right place. Just give a wide berth to the pop.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: There are a handful of bloody spikes for those necessitating the red stuff but West remains respectful at all times and doesn’t revel too much in giving us what we damned well know he can. It’s the moral implication of such infrequent acts of violence which lingers most after the act and it’s all the more distressing through this decision.

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Read Red State Appraisal

Read The House of the Devil Appraisal

Read The Innkeepers Appraisal

Read You’re Next Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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