REVIEW: The Sacrament

6 07 2014

The SacramentIt’s hard to think of any stylistic development of the past five years with quite the impact of found footage.  Once “Paranormal Activity” arrived out of nowhere with a resounding bang, it seemed like its DIY cinema verité aesthetic could be found wherever you looked.  From cop films (“End of Watch“) to superhero movies (“Chronicle“) and even teen party flicks (“Project X“), everyone was doing it – perhaps as a cost-cutting measure, or maybe just to fall in line with the newest trend.

Yet very few of these movies have actually committed to the style as the main vehicle for storytelling.  Ti West, on the other hand, employs it as more than a half-hearted gimmick in “The Sacrament.”  Under his direction, the camera becomes our eyes and ears, our only means of accessing the events of the narrative.  West’s dedication pays off in spades as his film constitutes one of the most absorbing and frightening experiences of the year.

I do wish West hadn’t been quite so beholden to recreating the Jonestown mass sacrifice (that’s the one with the Kool-Aid) since his command the technique creates a truly ominous atmosphere.  He doesn’t entirely recreate the famous cult settlement, but West does little more than essentially plant it in the present day.

The camera through which we experience “The Sacrament” comes courtesy of Vice reporters Jake and Sam (Joe Swanberg and AJ Bowen), who join colleague Patrick (Kentucker Audley) as he goes to check the safety of his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) at the mysterious commune Eden Parish.  The film begins with their extended journalistically-oriented overview of the group’s calm facade lasting nearly 45 minutes … but then the Vice team more or less causes the collapse of the Parish’s fragile community.

West, in the final hour, lets loose into an absolutely nightmarish terror.  “The Sacrament” quickly and efficiently shows the allure of a charismatic leader like Eden Parish’s “Father” (Gene Jones) and how quickly he can self-destruct the edifice he has built.  It’s not redefining the subgenre of cult horror, but West crafts one scarily good movie that ought to give anyone a potent fright.  B+3stars


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