Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: First Trailer For Gillian Flynn's 'Dark Places' Starring Charlize Theron, Chloë Moretz, And Nicholas Hoult Watch: First Trailer For Gillian Flynn's 'Dark Places' Starring Charlize Theron, Chloë Moretz, And Nicholas Hoult Review: Neill Blomkamp's 'Chappie,' Starring Die Antwoord, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver And Hugh Jackman Review: Neill Blomkamp's 'Chappie,' Starring Die Antwoord, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver And Hugh Jackman 'Chappie' Actor Admits There Was "Tension" On Set With Die Antwoord's Ninja; Check Out Two New Featurettes 'Chappie' Actor Admits There Was "Tension" On Set With Die Antwoord's Ninja; Check Out Two New Featurettes Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2016 Best Actor Contenders Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2016 Best Actor Contenders 2015 Tribeca Film Festival Line-Up Announced: James Franco’s ‘Adderall Diaries,’ Olivia Wilde In ‘Meadowland’ & More 2015 Tribeca Film Festival Line-Up Announced: James Franco’s ‘Adderall Diaries,’ Olivia Wilde In ‘Meadowland’ & More First Look: Joseph Gordon-Levitt As Edward Snowden In Oliver Stone's 'Snowden' First Look: Joseph Gordon-Levitt As Edward Snowden In Oliver Stone's 'Snowden' Drew Goddard To Write And Direct Sony & Marvel's 'The Spectacular Spider-Man'; 'Sinister Six' Scrapped Drew Goddard To Write And Direct Sony & Marvel's 'The Spectacular Spider-Man'; 'Sinister Six' Scrapped Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2016 Best Picture Contenders Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2016 Best Picture Contenders Watch: Original Short Film Version Of 'Whiplash' Starring Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons Watch: Original Short Film Version Of 'Whiplash' Starring Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons Watch: Nifty Video Examines David Fincher’s Subtle Repetition Of Framing And Blocking In 'Gone Girl' Watch: Nifty Video Examines David Fincher’s Subtle Repetition Of Framing And Blocking In 'Gone Girl' Sigourney Weaver Says She'll Be Playing A New Character In The 'Avatar' Sequels Sigourney Weaver Says She'll Be Playing A New Character In The 'Avatar' Sequels Kristen Stewart Joins Kelly Reichardt’s Untitled Montana Drama With Michelle Williams & More Kristen Stewart Joins Kelly Reichardt’s Untitled Montana Drama With Michelle Williams & More 'Prisoners' & 'Enemy' Director Denis Villeneuve To Helm 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Harrison Ford Confirmed To Return 'Prisoners' & 'Enemy' Director Denis Villeneuve To Helm 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Harrison Ford Confirmed To Return The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far "I F*cked It Up": Neill Blomkamp Says He Wants To Go Back To 'Elysium' And "Do It Correctly" "I F*cked It Up": Neill Blomkamp Says He Wants To Go Back To 'Elysium' And "Do It Correctly" The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki

Review: Ti West's 'The Sacrament' Both Fresh And A Missed Opportunity

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist June 6, 2014 at 4:01PM

Thirty-three years on from "Cannibal Holocaust" and fourteen from "The Blair Witch Project," found-footage horror is still going strong. It's no surprise really: they're cheap to make, consistently popular and almost always hugely profitable. But even with the "Paranormal Activity" and "V/H/S" franchises riding high, we do sometimes wonder how much more juice the genre has in it—it feels like a long time since we saw anything genuinely fresh in the form, and this is particularly dispiriting given the amount of cheap knock-offs that consistently appear.
2
The Sacrament

Thirty-three years on from "Cannibal Holocaust" and fourteen from "The Blair Witch Project," found-footage horror is still going strong. It's no surprise really: they're cheap to make, consistently popular and almost always hugely profitable. But even with the "Paranormal Activity" and "V/H/S" franchises riding high, we do sometimes wonder how much more juice the genre has in it—it feels like a long time since we saw anything genuinely fresh in the form, and this is particularly dispiriting given the amount of cheap knock-offs that consistently appear.

The Sacrament

Enter Ti West. The filmmaker marked himself as one of the more promising young directors the genre had to offer with the one-two punch of "The House Of The Devil " and "The Innkeepers," which stood out by going against the prevailing winds and nodding to classic '70s horror rather than more contemporary influences. Having dipped his toe in found-footage waters with a segment of the original "V/H/S," West dives under completely for his fifth feature "The Sacrament." It has its fair share of problems, but credit the flick with bringing a relatively fresh angle to the genre.

The Sacrament, Ti West
"The Sacrament," Ti West

Framed as a Vice documentary in their "Immersionism" style, we're told at the off that fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) has received a letter from his troubled, drug-addicted sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz), telling him she's cleaned up after joining a sober-living commune called Eden Parish. But the mysterious group has suddenly upped and moved abroad en masse to a secret location. Concerned for his sister, Patrick gets an invitation to visit, and brings along Vice documentarian Sam (A.J. Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg) to report on the organization.

They're flown by helicopter to the secret location (which seems to be somewhere around the Caribbean, judging by the locals' accents), and told that they'll be picked up at 8 a.m. the next morning. Initially, the cameras are met with some hostility, but a clean-and-sober Caroline smooths things over, and the visitors are impressed by what they see—it appears to be a genuine idyll, where good people have escaped the troubles and temptations of modern life to live off the land. But they're a little troubled by the group's leader, Father (Gene Jones, best known for "No Country For Old Men"), and once they scratch the surface, it becomes clear that something is very wrong at Eden Parish.

The first forty minutes or so of "The Sacrament" represent a pretty impressive piece of world building on the part of West. The three protagonists (all performed decently and with restraint) are neatly set up without it feeling too expositional, while a fair number of Parish members come with diverse backgrounds and stories (most notably "The Color Wheel" star Kate Lyn Sheil, another member of the incestuous troupe that have appeared in several of West's films, and tangentially-related ones like "You're Next").

The Sacrament, Ti West

There's some cunning storytelling happening too. The camera elegantly sets up the geography of the commune, which will pay off later. In fact, when combined with the loudspeaker pronouncements from Father, it feels like the calm-before-the-storm segments of video games like "Bioshock," a rare example of tropes from that world being transplanted intelligently to the big screen without it feeling like someone else is holding the controller.

Even if you were unaware of the genre you'd know that shit was likely to go down from the earliest moments of "The Sacrament," thanks to Tyler Bates' throbbing, dread-fueled Carpenter-esque score. The tension really is beautifully ramped up in these early scenes and gets an audience well prepped to watch carnage unfold around people you've truly come to care about.

The Sacrament, Ti West

Then, when the thing goes off, it's not with a bang but with something more like a a whimper. Without giving too much away, there's no supernatural aspect at play and if "The Sacrament" is a horror film—and that could be up for debate—it's about the horror that ensues when people put their faith in the wrong person. It's refreshing to see a found-footage film deal with this kind of grounded subject matter and doubly so that the film's climax takes place entirely in the daytime. And yet it doesn't quite work, not because it's set in the light, but because the climax ends up being ultimately what you probably guessed it was early on and it pretty much plays out in the most obvious (and, relatively-speaking, stakes-free) way you could imagine. There's not much left in the way of tension or surprises and it can't do anything except feel like a huge anticlimax.

West doesn't help his cause by breaking the found-footage rules he'd previously kept carefully within the bounds of. A third POV camera is introduced without explanation for the purposes of reaction shots, and one of the originals is left behind, despite its footage clearly being used in the finished "film." It's symptomatic of the hastiness with which the conclusion seems to have been cooked up, and ultimately emblematic of what a missed opportunity the film proves to be. [C+]


This article is related to: Ti West, Reviews, Review, The Sacrament


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

E-Mail Updates