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





REVIEW: Inglourious Basterds

24 08 2009

Quentin Tarantino has made movies the way he wants for nearly two decades now, and that is precisely what has made him one of the most beloved and distinguished directors in recent memory.  His latest outing, “Inglourious Basterds,” has been a pet project for over ten years.  It is Tarantino at the top of his game: gruesomely violent, side-splittingly hilarious, and outrageous fun.  It brings the high-energy approach that Tarantino takes to his classics set in the present day and applies it to World War II.  The result is a testosterone-pumping farce with a climax that will get you up out of your seats, screaming and applauding.

The movie revolves around Lt. Aldo Raine, played to hysterical brilliance by Brad Pitt, and his team of “Basterds,” comprised of Jewish-American soldiers on a mission to brutally massacre the Nazi soldiers in France out of nothing but cold vengeance.  But Tarantino’s story consists of multiple layers that contribute to his five-part harmony.  Perhaps the most chilling is the loquacious Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), better known among the French as “The Jew Hunter.”  Landa is always one step ahead of the game, and every scene in which he appears brings you to the edge of your seat.  He radiates a very calm exterior, but on the inside, he seems to be a ticking time bomb.  This aspect lends an aura of suspense to his character as we eagerly await him to just explode with anger.

The story also follows Shoshanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), the lone survivor of the Nazis massacre of her family who then becomes motivated to avenge their deaths.  She finds the perfect opportunity when German war hero turned Nazi propaganda movie star Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) becomes smitten with her.  He wants to host hundreds of high-ranking Nazis for the premiere of his movie at the theater that she owns.  Her plan is to torch the theater.  Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Shoshanna, the British are organizing a plot to blow up the theater along with the Basterds and a German movie star gone spy named Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger).  The collision of the story lines results in a final act that will not soon be forgotten.

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