Blu-ray l DVD l Instant l Netflix
Directed by Ti West
Written by Ti West
Starring Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Gene Jones, Amy Seimetz, and Kentucker Audley
Rated R | 99 Minutes
Release Date: May 1, 2014 (U.S.)
It is such a welcome feeling to a horror nut like me to watch a movie and actually feel unnerved and uncomfortable. That was how I felt just minutes into Ti West’s The Sacrament. In a genre as cliché driven as horror, ominous foreshadowing is par for the course. “Let’s investigate,” “I have a bad feeling about this,” “I’ll be right back”… we’ve seen it all before. But there’s something about real-life plausible situations that can be much scarier than possessed dolls and masked killers. Enter Eden Parish.
Patrick (Kentucker Audley) works for Vice, a multimedia company from New York that specializes in controversial stories mainstream news outlets won’t cover. His sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) is a recovering addict who joins a reclusive parish that ups and leaves the U.S. to an undisclosed location outside of the U.S. This seems like the perfect story for Vice so Patrick, lead reporter Sam (AJ Bowen), and cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg) set out via helicopter to meet Caroline and the residents of the “heaven on earth” that is Eden Parish.
Using the “found footage” handheld cameras, we immediately get bad vibes when the chopper is met by machine gun wielding men. They drive them through the woods to the Parish: a compound entirely built by its residents through their “charitable donations,” aka life savings. Caroline meets them and promises them they will be impressed, and at first they are. The ones living there come from all wakes of life, old and young, who came to escape a world dominated by poverty, racism, and consumerism. Gang members, seniors, and even several newborns seem to live happily. Sam and Jake are convinced after just a few hours that this could be the legitimate safe haven it appears. They’re even given a chance to interview The Father (Gene Jones, in a phenomenal and wholly disturbing performance). The interview is done publicly in front of the parish before a big party for the guests. Jones’s performance is so genuine and unsettling that you can imagine him leading a real life cult. Leaving in the morning, the three men plan on spending a night partying at Eden Parish when a little girl delivers them a note saying “Please help us.”
I don’t want to spoil anything else plot wise, but suffice to say you can probably predict the events that transpire. You don’t need to be a genius to draw straight lines to Jonestown and the People’s Church. That being said, it is that much more horrifying because you’re stuck hoping things will end up differently. While usually an ardent hater of found footage, here it actually made sense. The documentary style is necessary to the plot, and from a story perspective it immerses you much deeper into the lives of the characters. You feel trapped in Eden Parish and surrounded by the horrors around them.
Director Ti West is in his mid-30s. He has already made several excellent films including House of the Devil (2009) and The Innkeepers (2011), and has directed selections in horror anthologies V/H/S and The ABCs of Death (both in 2012). He is an old-fashioned minimalist. There’s little to no gore, and he refrains from the jump-scares that dominate mainstream horror films. In The Sacrament the horror is in the knowing what will happen and still being forced to live through it. It was one of the most chilling and unsettling films I’ve seen in years and for that I LOVED it.
The Sacrament as well as West’s other films are available free on Netflix (with monthly streaming subscription), Amazon Instant Video for $3.99, and also available on DVD and Blu-ray. Pardon the pun, but if looking for great horror films, look Ti West!