Movie Review: “The Sacrament” Should Be Put Out Of Our Misery

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Review by James McDonald

Two journalists set out to document their friend’s search to find his missing sister.

“The Sacrament” tells the story of Patrick (Kentucker Audley), a man who approaches two of his friends, Sam (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg), who both work at Vice Media, a news outlet which reports stories that are not covered by mainstream broadcasting. Patrick tells them that his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) has been missing for some time but he recently received a letter from her, informing him that she is now living in a commune at an undisclosed location outside of the U.S. She invites him down there and he agrees as long as Sam and Jake can accompany him. The trio pack up their bags and cameras and head out to the unknown region. We are never told its whereabouts or what country it is in but some indicators point to a location possibly in South Africa.

They are flown by helicopter to the remote region where they are met by armed guards. Apparently, Sam and Jake are not on the welcome list but Patrick’s sister Caroline appears and everything is sorted out. People here seem to be happy. They live off the land and they praise God every day as a community, hence, its name, ‘Eden Parish’. Caroline manages to set up an interview for Sam that evening with the commune’s reclusive leader, simply known as ‘Father’ (Gene Jones). During the interview, it seems that with every question Sam asks him, Father cleverly sidesteps them and puts the focus instead back on Sam. Flustered, Sam calls it a night and then there is music and celebrating. Meeting people and seeing them so happy, Sam and Jake rethink their initial skepticism and begin to let their guard down but that’s when odd things start happening.

The trio of Patrick, Sam and Jake are, at first, welcomed to the fellowship but gradually, Father begins to doubt their objective for being there and feels threatened by their presence and very quickly, he denounces them at which point, the entire parish turns on them. Knowing that they have to meet the helicopter at its designated point and at a particular time early the next morning, they must formulate a plan for escape or die trying. This is yet another nail in the coffin of the “Found Footage” genre. It has been effective in such films as “The Blair Witch Project”, “REC” and some of the “Paranormal Activity” movies but once studios realized that this genre appeared to be doing well in the above-mentioned movies and making money, they put many of their horror films on the fast-track, utilizing said technique.

Of course, they didn’t take into account that it was only successful in some movies, not every film that used that approach was a big hit so the movie market became saturated with endless ripoffs and lesser-made movies. Here, it is more of an annoyance than anything else. The story at the heart of “The Sacrament”, while not wholly original, is one that could have benefited more if produced as a conventional horror/thriller. The ‘horror’ aspect of it does not relate to monsters and demons per se, well not in the literal sense, instead, it pertains to a very disturbing scene where Father convinces the entire congregation to commit suicide, by way of poison punch. He has brainwashed them into his way of thinking and watching people coughing their guts up while clinging together as a family unit in their last moments of life, was more horrifying than any demonic monster.

Overall, the quality of the production was good and the film was produced by none other than Eli Roth, the director of “Cabin Fever”, “Hostel” and “Hostel II”. Mr. Roth always seems to be attracted to projects filled with blood and guts but here, he leaves the directing chores to Ti West, the director of the creepy low-budget flicks, “The Innkeepers” and “The House of the Devil”. The acting in general was solid but when people are running and the camera is moving all over the place instead of looking straight ahead, like traditional movies, it becomes an irritation and a headache. And you know what you do if something is giving you a headache…you turn it off.

On Demand and iTunes May 1st and in theaters June 6th

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James McDonald
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