Director: Ti West
Writer: Ti West
Cast: Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Gene Jones, and Kentucker Audley
Length: 95 min
Label: Magnet Releasing
Release Date: August 19, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
- Creating The Sacrament: Revealing the Vision
- Working with the Director: The Ti West Experience
- Preparing for Takeoff: Behind the Scenes Helicopter Sequence
- AXS TV: A Look at The Sacrament
- Audio Commentary with Ti West, AJ Bowen, and Amy Seimetz
In a recent interview, Ti West announced that he was taking a break from horror to focus on different genre projects, and it’s easy to see why. The Sacrament is not enjoyable to watch, and certainly couldn’t have been too enjoyable to make. It is an exhausting, difficult film, a thinly-veiled adaptation of the infamous 1978 Jonestown massacre, updated for the social media generation. Aside from proper nouns and a few key factual changes, the story remains largely unchanged from one of the worst cult suicides in Western history. Some may argue that the film exploits a tragedy still reverberating through our culture, but if one can endure the story until its inevitable conclusion, it’s clear that West isn’t trying to go for the easy shock as much as he is trying to remind us of the worst that our culture can produce.
The Sacrament’s plot is well-worn territory, but that doesn’t lessen the sense of impending atrocity. Vice News correspondents Sam (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg) travel to the South American communal village of Eden Parish along with co-worker Patrick (Kentucker Audley) to meet the latter’s sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz). Patrick’s sibling has been living in the reclusive society since leaving rehab, and presents them a seemingly idyllic, peaceful community under the direction of the mysterious “Father,” (Gene Jones, in by far the best performance of the movie). Of course, things aren’t as they seem, and the situation deteriorates from there very quickly.If you know the story of Jonestown, you know the story of Eden Parish. The Sacrament isn’t concerned so much with mystery as it is with examining human frailty, paranoia, zealotry, and the manipulation of these weaknesses. As such, this isn’t fun to watch, and unfortunately, it’s somewhat tough to recommend. Those looking for the high-points of West’s relatively new career would be better off checking out The House of the Devil, or even his brief, hilarious cameo last year’s excellent home invasion flick, You’re Next. The Sacrament watches more as a project examining real world horrors that most trouble the director, and—for better or worse—he does so very effectively.
Skeptics of the found footage genre have nothing to fear—so to speak—in this movie. Both West and cinematographer Eric Robbins do their best to minimize the shaky-cam syndrome that has plagued similar films, and usually succeed. Most of the handheld footage is offset by brilliantly shot interviews and panoramic depictions of the commune scenery. Particularly, the turning-point conversation between Father and the “filmmakers” in front of Eden Parish population is particularly striking. It’s all downhill from there, unfortunately, and the events afterwards just get more and more difficult to stomach.The true horror of The Sacrament comes from instances such as one of the most upsetting death sequences I’ve seen in a long time. Describing the section would give away too much of the story, but it’s safe to say you’ll know it when you see it. Here, the found footage conceit works to the film’s advantage, with the camera positioned in a way to make you feel like a very unfortunate fly on the wall, watching the slow, painful demise of someone without the ability to look away. Yeah. It’s pretty awful.
In a nutshell, that is The Sacrament. “Yeah. It’s pretty awful.” Not awful in terms of writing, filmmaking, or acting, but awful in tone, in subject matter, in knowing that these sorts of events are unsettlingly possible for humanity. Ti West has made his most disturbing film yet, and it seems that it was effective enough for even him to move on to different genres. Hopefully, he’ll return to horror soon, because if not, it’s a hell of an endnote.
The 1080p transfer from Magnolia Home Video ratchets up the clarity of West’s directorial abilities. The details of Eden Parish, its inhabitants, and even the climactic tragedy sequences are sharp, clear, and add to the raw, faux-news footage. There are only a couple of instances when it’s a little too detailed, most notably in the one or two instances of minimal, post-production CGI.
The 5.1, lossless DTS-HD MA audio is one of the highlights of the film. Everything is enhanced and positioned almost perfectly—basic interview sequences, screams, and even gunshots feel like the real deal. Take that as you will, of course. The only thing that sometimes gets in the way is the film’s soundtrack, which, while effective, can detract from the found footage “feel.”
The Blu-Ray release features a number of decent extras for the fan who hasn’t had enough inhumanity and desolation. Particularly nice special features include a short, behind the scenes documentary, as well as a commentary track with West, Bowen, and Seimitz. Better than most release extras, but not the best.
Although it is a decent film, The Sacrament is by no means Ti West’s best, but it is an effectively chilling portrayal of real world terror. The soul-crushing subject matter is somewhat offset by a standout performance from Gene Jones and pretty great cinematography. Unfortunately, the plot’s foregone conclusion and brutal depictions of despair make it nonessential viewing aside from diehard West fans, and almost unwatchable to the uninitiated.