The Sacrament is the newest film written, directed, even edited by Ti West. West is the horror nerd behind The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, even penning the screenplay for The ABCs of Death. This time West digs deeper, burrowing into the collective dark caverns of humanity, to bring us The Sacrament. This film impressed me greatly, and I want you to go in with little in the way of information. You’ll notice I haven’t posted a trailer at the end of the review, and it’s completely intentional; the less you know, the more shocked you’ll be. The official synopsis goes like this:
Two journalists set out to document their friend’s search to find his missing sister.
That’s a fair assessment of this film, but I’ll go a little further and tell you the two friends end up in the machine gun-fortified Eden Parish, a utopian communal society deep in the jungle of a foreign land. A mysterious leader simply known as “Father”, provides a very familiar Jonestown vibe, something viewers will instantly recognize. I’ve said it a million times, when it comes to personal horror (sans parasites), there is nothing as terrifying as being stuck in some God-forsaken foreign country when the horror wheel is turning. The Sacrament goes beyond due diligence to make this clear.
AJ Bowen (A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next, The House of the Devil), Joe Swanberg (Cabin Fever 2, A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next), and Kentucker Audley (VHS), make up the media team leading the charge into Eden Parish to find the sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz, Upstream Color, The Killing). Bowen and Seimetz deliver some of their best work, each approaching their time there from what seems like pure motivations. While Caroline is friendly and warm, you quickly get the feeling she knows much more than she cares to share. The crew spends its time interviewing the members of this anti-imperialist society, learning how everyone pitches in for themselves and their fellow man, even providing some of these lost souls with a place to belong and contribute. The camera crew is met with genuine enthusiasm, carefully listening to the stories of the people who dropped out of our violent, racist world to create their own peace and brotherly love.
This is obviously a horror film and you know bad things are coming, and they are, but not until after the introduction of Father (Gene Jones), the leader who created the Parish during his revival tour to every small town under the sun. Slowly gaining a member or two with each sermon, he grows his utopia with the peaceful teachings of Jesus Christ. Clearly, a charismatic man, Father, shows the outsiders exactly how much his word is rule. Jones is the star of this film, delivering his lines with undeniable skill and inspiration. Jones is clearly a representation of the real Jim Jones and the misguided, power-hungry type of person that starts their own society or cult.
The Sacrament is wonderfully cast and acted, something West uses to his expertly honed horror sensibility. I feel compelled to warn the casual viewer that the film traverses to some dark places. Saying it’s “ripped from the headlines” or “inspired by true events” doesn’t make the film any easier to process. I’ll never understand the collective weak will that allows things like this to happen. Suffering is universal no matter where you’re from. One man’s homelessness could be a high-paid CEO’s drug addiction or what have you; no one is pain-free when it comes to life. Ti West captures that painful lesson and sets it loose in some familiar Kool Aid-soaked grounds. The Sacrament can be appreciated by a lot of horror fans, but I’m warning you that film crosses over into the darkest part of American storytelling, and you will think about this when it’s over.
The Sacrament is best watched in the comfort of daytime. Where’s my Xanax?