“The Sacrament” Movie Review
I’m going to be very careful as to how much I give away about Ti West‘s thriller “The Sacrament.” I had the pleasure of seeing it at a local film festival, before even a synopsis was released. Now, an unbelievably revealing trailer has been released, and, if you haven’t already seen it, I IMPLORE you not to. Go in almost completely blind like I did and it will totally pay off. Here’s the tiny summary I’ll give you: a group of reporters head out of the country to a mysterious religious community called “Eden Parish,” where all life seems to revolve around it’s mysterious founder, known simply as Father. That’s all you need to know.
The director of “The Sacrament,” the brilliantly twisted Ti West, is truly one of the greatest horror masterminds of our time. His film, “House of the Devil,” was a tremendous throwback to 70s horror, and the suspense was built to an almost unbearable level. West’s next film, “The Innkeepers,” was similar in that the tension continued to mount until you couldn’t take it anymore. But neither of those films hold a candle to his disturbing new film, “The Sacrament.” It follows the same pattern – first half is all tension, second half is all hell breaking loose.
The first half of the film, which slowly and methodically introduces the main characters and the location of Eden Parish is terrifying. There was this awful sense of dread and foreboding that actually made me feel sick to my stomach. One admirable and unexpected thing the film does is not judge the members of this cult-like community. They aren’t the typical all-black wearing cult members you’ve come to expect from movies like this. Instead, they’re completely normal people, all ages, all races, but most distinctive, all people that you could know. After introducing all the characters and getting into the mind of Father a little bit, one small, gasp-worthy event, changes everything.
Now on to the second half. If I could use one word to describe it, it would be unrelenting. A few times I looked around the theater, only to find a group of old and young people alike staring at the screen with their mouths agape. They weren’t shocked by gore, nor were they shocked by sudden bursts of music. I won’t describe in detail what we all saw on screen, but it was brutal. You may actually find yourself looking away from the screen. Again, not because you’re scared something may pop out, but because it’s nicer to look at the walls of your movie theater than to witness the utter atrocity occurring in front of you.
Critics will complain that the story is not original, and that West is exploiting a real-life tragedy. I disagree tremendously on this point. I was never under the impression that West was trying to “pull one over” on the audience. He surely knows that we will recognize similarities to a real life story, and likely acknowledge it during the film. He just doesn’t explicitly state it. Now if there was a “based on true events” shown at the beginning of the movie, people would complain that it was a tasteless marketing ploy. But there isn’t, and now people complain that it’s a rip-off. Give me a break.
As far as acting goes, “The Sacrament” hosts an impressive cast. Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, and Kentucky Audley have most of the screen time, and they all do a great job, but none compare to the mind-blowing performance given by Gene Jones (Father). He dominates every scene he’s in. Everything about his performance is spot on, and he’s mesmerizing. His dialogue and speeches are all thought-provoking and written very well, but his delivery just takes them to the next level. This is a career-making performance for Jones.
You can probably tell, I totally loved “The Sacrament.” It reconfirmed that Ti West is a genius who knows exactly how to get under your skin. It’s only February, but I’m already confident that this will make my best films of the year list. “The Sacrament” is one of the darkest portrayals of humanity ever put to screen, period.