The Sacrament Screen 14 articles

The Sacrament

2013

The Sacrament Poster
  • ...Welcome to the most tastelessly pointless and pointlessly tasteless fifteen or so minutes of cinema in 2014. In the wake of the likes of Wolf Creek, The Sacrament is doing its bit to liberate atrocity porn from the ghetto of heart-tugging true-life drama films and haul it into the realm of pure exploitation, all with a catastrophically straight face.

  • Ti West’s sloppily made and surpassingly tasteless movie slaps a Vice logo on its account of American documentarians investigating a secretive Caribbean commune. But even if the found-footage textures aren’t really supposed to fool anybody—not unless Joe Swanberg and Kentucker Audley have suddenly quit their day jobs to become crusading freelance journalists—The Sacrament still feels like an attempt to cash in on a played-out trend.

  • The same logic gap that has plagued most of these films (that their characters never put their cameras down even at the most agonized, dangerous of moments) is here far too wide to skip across. What’s worse is that this is not The Sacrament’s most glaring problem. Once we discover the crux of the film—what the central threat of Eden Parish is—it’s revealed that West has traded his refreshing classicism for the tastelessness and slapdash technique that defines our contemporary horror moment.

  • West seems to think he's telling a story other than the one we're watching onscreen: He's trying to terrify us, but what we're watching is more sad than scary, more depressing than pulse-raising. It might have worked if his characters were more interesting, or the situation they found themselves in less boilerplate. But his story is so rinky-dink that there’s nothing for us to grasp.

  • West has a knack for slow builds, and the early scenes possess a certain nagging creepiness. But the mock-doc structure is totally inconsistent; if this is supposed to be an official ready-to-air segment, with an intro and title cards, why does it also appear to be unedited raw footage of the trip? More problematic is the way West essentially re-creates a real-life atrocity, beat for awful beat, for the sake of some second-rate thrills.

  • The second half of The Sacrament is the simultaneously most powerful yet most fouled up work of West's career... This irresolution will be inevitably embraced by a certain part of the audience as a testament to West's admirable willingness to allow for ambiguity and mystery, but there's ambiguity and there's a simple unwillingness to do your character homework.

  • The film is by far at its best in its unsettling opening stages, where the commune is shown to be beatifically content, and the VICE boys' cocky bravado is gradually subsumed by a creeping unease, accentuated by Tyler Bates's creepy score... However, shortly after the confrontation, The Sacrament's wheels come off. The narrative settles into a depressingly conventional groove, jettisoning its initial social critique and any discernible characterization...

  • There are plenty of failed cheats to heighten the drama (really, how many cameras do they have?), and the mumblecore all-stars cast never believably suggests that we’re watching terrified people navigating a bad situation. Only Jones seems most at home, striking just the right note of low-key malevolence. You’d follow him anywhere—maybe even into a better movie.

  • “The Sacrament” never mentions Jones or the Peoples Temple, though the identity of the smooth talker in shades, simply called Father (a fine Gene Jones), is obvious. Less clear is what Mr. West thought he was doing with this depressing, grim story, which here becomes a pointless, abjectly impersonal re-creation of mass death, one poisoned sip and fired bullet at a time.

  • Our collective memory of Jonestown thrums just below the surface - that's what makes the first half so rich - which is why it's disappointing when it turns out that Jonestown _is_ the surface... West should probably move beyond genre, not in this half-assed way but make a clean break, make a relationship drama and channel his gift for tension into psychological tension.

  • Premiering at the Venice Film Festival (no SXSW or Sundance for West!), the film certainly has art film credo, but is perhaps the director's most formulaic and safe to date. But it's still amply packed with chilling pleasures, dead-eyed violence and the continuing theme of young people gravitating towards vocations that lead to self-destruction.

  • West is such a technically accomplished filmmaker, and his cast of semi-regulars so committed to the narrative, that the resultant movie gives enough unsettling atmosphere and upsetting gut-level shock that this viewer didn’t mind too much all the stuff he wasn’t getting, such as intellectual coherence, not to mention any kind of profound insight into the cult hive mind.

  • The Sacrament isn't afraid to get overtly "cinematic": there's non-diegetic music, cross-cutting between multiple lines of action, and even a few impressively composed shots. So many [found footage movies] insist on the flailing integrity of their handheld camera, but in The Sacrament, characters actually set the camera down.

  • By re-creating the real life events but distancing itself from them in name, the film seems to signal that it is only an interpretation of the facts – an attempt to get to the emotional truth of how this could have happenned, without ever claiming to know what it was really like. It gives us a humane and empathetic way to approach those people, which I think is definitely more valuable and honest than to simply reject them as gullible, stupid, or totally insane.

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