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The Sacrament (2013)
Magnolia Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 8/19/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/28/2014
In my recent review forThe Quiet Ones, I wrote about how filmmakers will slap an "Inspired by Actual Events" label on their movie and whether or not this actually attracts or influences viewers. But, what about movies which go in the opposite direction? There are movies which are clearly influenced by stories and people from real life, but don't acknowledge this in any way. Are true stories fair game? Is this plagiarism? What if the event occurred many years ago, even before the filmmaker was born? How do we judge this? These questions must be considered when viewing The Sacrament.
The Sacrament introduces us to Sam (AJ Bowen), the head of VICE, an online media outlet which travels the globe making documentaries and uncovering unusual stories. Fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) approaches VICE with a story about his sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz). An addict who has been in and out of treatment for years, Caroline has written Patrick to inform him that she has joined a group called "Eden Parish" and that she's doing better than ever. Sam and Patrick, along with videographer Jake (Joe Swanberg), travel to an unnamed foreign country to visit Caroline and check out the group. They are greeted by armed men who take them to a remote compound. There, they meet Caroline, who assures them that Eden Parish is a great place and that she's never been happier. While Patrick visits with his sister, Sam and Jake interview some of the residents, most of whom seem happy, but there is still something odd about the place. As they prepare to meet The Father (Gene Jones), the creator of Eden Parish, Sam and Jake fear that things aren't as tranquil as they seem.
Only the younger or more ignorant out there aren't aware of the Jonestown Massacre. In the late 70s, the followers of Reverend Jim Jones re-located to the country of Guyana in South America, establishing a compound called "Jonestown". In November, 1978, following an altercation with a U.S. government official, the residents of Jonestown committed mass-suicide by drinking a Kool-Aid like drink laced with poison. (There has been debate about whether or not the victims drank the deadly concoction voluntarily or while at gunpoint.) The event shocked the world, re-defined how we think of cults, and is the origin of the term "Drink the Kool-Aid", when we refer to someone who follows blindly.
Surely, Writer/Director Ti West was fully aware of the events of Jonestown when he made The Sacrament, as the story is very similar to the real-life events. While this isn't a word-for-word re-telling of the Jonestown story -- the population is smaller, the goals seem somewhat different, and there is no involvement with the government -- the similarities are undeniable. So, again, here's the question: Why didn't West either claim this as a re-telling of Jonestown or make something completely different?
That question aside, The Sacrament is West's best movie to date. While he's seen as a member of a group of young, cutting-edge horror filmmakers, West's style is actually a throwback to an earlier time. He's the modern master of the slow burn. His movies are very slow-paced and typically only come to life in the finale. While this approach isn't necessarily bad, his movies likeThe House of the Devil and The Innkeepers come very close to wearing out their welcome before anything truly interesting happens. I admire West for doing something a little different, but this approach often works against him.
While The Sacrament is certainly no Michael Bay film (Thank God!), it's much more fast-paced than West's previous entries and this leads to a marked improvement in quality. West has always shown an ability to create suspense, but it would usually fizzle out due to the film's pacing. The Sacrament keeps things moving along and the story grows at a natural rate. Of course, being a movie, we know that something bad will happen, especially since religious zealots are involved, but there is still a palpable tension here. We are along for the ride with Sam and Jake, so we learn things as they do. This is due to the fact that The Sacrament is yet another "found footage" horror movie. But, the approach works (for the most part) here as the documentary angle is introduced in the beginning and carried out quite well. Being a photographer, Patrick has brought his camera along, so he is able to shoot video along with Jake, adding to the footage involved. (There is a continuity error in the finale which sort of ruins the whole thing, but I'll let that slide.)
Despite the fact that West has declined to mention Jonestown here, The Sacrament is still an effective thriller. Gene Jones (is that an odd coincidence or what) is very good at The Father, a man who is both nice and somehow menacing at the same time. Bowen and Swanberg (who is everywhere these days) are asked to carry the film and they do a nice job as well. Don't let the fact that Eli Roth's name is attached to The Sacrament fool you -- It's worth watching and I'm looking forward to seeing what growth West displays next.
The Sacrament really made me question Sam's taste in music on DVD courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The only issues here are those "manufactured" defects which are inherent to "found footage" movies. The colors look very good, most notably the green trees and grass, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good and for a DVD, there is nice depth here. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The mix does a fine job of bringing to life sounds from all over the compound. The stereo effects show good separation and alert us to sounds coming from off-screen. The surround effects are very active, showing that things are happening all around Sam and Jake.
The Sacrament DVD contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Ti West, AJ Bowen, and Amy Seimetz. "Creating The Sacrament: Revealing the Vision" (21 minutes) is a fairly detailed "making-of" featurette which contains many interviews and a great deal of on-set footage. Hearing from West, Roth, the other producers, and the cast, we get a clear picture of how the project came together and what the shoot was like. "Working with the Director: The Ti West Experience" (6 minutes) has the cast and creative team discussing what it was like to work with West and what his style is like. "Preparing for Takeoff: Behind the Scenes Helicopter Sequence" (5 minutes) takes us on-set to see what it was shooting the scene from the third act. There is a picture-in-picture element at times here, which compares the finished scene with the on-set footage. "AXS TV: A Look at The Sacrament" (4 minutes) is a brief piece which offers clips and some of the interviews which were included in the other extras.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long