BY EMILY GAGNE
Ti West fans are in for a change of pace with his new film The Sacrament.
That’s not to say that the Eli Roth-produced film doesn’t follow that same, slow-burning West formula as evidenced in his breakout features House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. Or that it doesn’t feature the same high level cinematography, script and acting. But this thriller doesn’t have any occult or supernatural leanings. It’s simply about the horrors that real people with real issues are capable of achieving.
The Sacrament is a found footage piece following two VICE journalists (AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg of the horror movie of the summer, You’re Next) as they attempt to investigate a strange new cult dubbed Eden Parrish. The duo is lead there by a photographer (Kentucker Audley) whose off-the-rails sister (Amy Seimetz, also of You’re Next) has become deeply involved with the Eden Parrish population, particularly its leader, a man who eerily goes by the name Father.
There isn’t anything new about The Sacrament in terms of storytelling. It simply goes the way of most cult tales (real and imagined), slowly revealing the sinister cracks in the seemingly idealistic structure of this religiously inclined miniature society. You’ll see the ending coming from a mile away, especially if you are familiar with the events of the infamous Jonestown Massacre of 1978. But that doesn’t make any of the lead-up any less discomforting.
To be honest, West’s take on the genre isn’t as chilling as Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, or Brit Marling-starring indie Sound of My Voice. But I would certainly build a shriek shrine to Gene Jones, the relatively unknown, incredibly impressive actor tasked with playing Father. From the moment you meet him and his oversized old man aviators, you will get a chill down your spine. And that’s just before he begins speaking in West’s twisted tongues.
At the Toronto International Film Festival premiere Sunday afternoon, West explained that Father’s first scene — a 12-page scripted interview between him and Bowen’s Sam — was shot in record time because Jones nailed Father’s suspicious, yet charming spin spiel so effortlessly. I’m not shocked. Jones is so convincing, conniving and cunning in that sequence you almost come to understand how and why these crowds of people might have fallen under his mysterious spell.
The cast really is the reason to drink The Sacrament‘s Kool-Aid, as Bowen, Swanberg, Audley and Seimetz also churn out highly believable respective performances, especially in the climax. Although I’m not one to support incest, I hope that West and Swanberg continue to keep their productions within their unofficial family, which also includes fellow V/H/S contributors and You’re Next director/writer team Adam Wingard and Simon Barrrett. Together they are birthing a new and worthy subsection of the horror genre, one that considers anything less than quality production and casting unholy.