Fantastic Fest The Sacrament (2013) Movie Review

Flay Otters

Personal note: I’m going to do something with this review that I don’t normally do which is separate it into two parts. One part will be the film as a whole and the second part will get into spoiler-y territory dealing with the second half of the film. Thought it best to give fair warning.

The Sacrament is a step forward and upward for director Ti West, arguably his best ‘complete’ film yet. While I dearly love House Of The Devil and really dig The Innkeepers, both films deal with humanity in an almost removed sort of way. The Sacrament, on the other hand, really focuses the bulk of its efforts on the delicate balance of faith, interpersonal relationships, family and starting over in the most extreme of ways. Humanity is the true central character in this film and it is because of this that it resonates on multiple levels. The story follows a group of expose’ television filmmakers (AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg & Kentucker Audley) who take their production to Central America to track down the wayward sister (played really really well by Amy Seimetz) of Patrick (Audley) who seems to have taken up with a separatist religious group who have moved their operations very far south and very remote.

The setup is really key here because it motivates the ‘found footage’ aspect of the film. Because these guys spend their time in rough, dangerous environments and are used to filming, even in bad circumstances, the constant filming makes sense. So often, the thought that crosses your mind with found footage is ‘why in the hell are you still filming? Put the damned camera down and run/help/do something!’ so I was well-satisfied with that as a logical reason the cameras keep rolling. Further, their reason for going there in the first place is to not only locate Patrick’s sister, but to profile this group and get some answers about the seemingly extreme measures they’ve taken to isolate themselves. This isn’t only a personal trip, it’s a professional one.

Once they make it to the Eden Parish and meet up with Caroline (Seimetz), the full court charm-offensive is in full effect and, initially is called out as BS. The journalists are given a cabin to stay in and are paraded around and set up to meet various members of the group in a seemingly well-planned tour. This overwhelmingly positive initial impression puts the men on edge, but, the evidence seems to suggest that Father’s (the incredible Gene Jones) commune for former addicts and criminals is the real deal and not some scary cult, the visitors start to come around. It is at this point that you start to doubt yourself for immediately questioning the Eden Parish group and what might lead you, as the viewer to immediately assume these people are secretly sacrificing goats and worshipping the devil or whatever else. It is a profoundly uncomfortable feeling to have your value set questioned in such a subtle and effective way. Why do I suspect these people? Why do I immediately assume the worst? Would I judge these people were I in the same position?

Spoiler territory

West takes us from that point, the questioning ourselves one, into a seriously dark and scary place where we then question why we questioned or doubted our guts and, at least for me, wonder how many times I may have overlooked this type of thing in my own life. The Eden Parish group shows itself to be more of a ‘member for life’ type operation where the visit by these outsiders sets in-motion the eventual tearing down of their whole way of life to severely screwed up ends. If you have some degree of familiarity with cult groups like Heaven’s Gate or with Jim Jones or anything along those lines, you know that the ‘scorched earth’ is a real possible outcome and that is no exception here.

Watching Father weave an utterly absurd set of reasoning for voluntarily drinking the kool-aid and passing on to the next life was just remarkable. I mean, seriously shake-you-to-your-core level of evil dressed up as faith and resolve. The aftermath of this is really where the horror kicks in to another level. Watching the lions’ share of the members stagger and suffer and die from the poison in their drinks was one of the more purely disgusting and horrific things I’ve seen in a long time. It’s not big and splashy and is all the more affecting because of its intimate, up-close nature. You watch parents hold children as they die, you see the fear overtake them, the doubt in their choice and the slow-but-quick and painful death they experience. It isn’t exploitative but doesn’t flinch away. It is painful and scary to watch a group of people essentially take up arms against themselves in the name of faith and community and a fear of what the outside world will do to them if given access.

End spoiler territory

Whether you read the spoiler area or not before seeing it, this film will really give you something to think about well after it ends. The questions posed are not simple ones and the fates of the visiting journalists and the Eden Parish members are not something you can just chalk up to one pre-conceived idea or other. Ti West has created, for all intent and purpose, a very complete but also very open-ended film in the sense that the reality of it and the humanity are not one-sided. There are no easy answers no matter how much you might think otherwise. Does one event cause another? What happens when you do nothing? Is it worse than doing something? The list goes on and on.

This film knocked me on my ass and really sets the bar high for others wanting to tackle this type of subject matter in the future. When you make a film that doesn’t pander to only one idea and instead challenges the viewer to leave it all at the door, then you’ve really done something special. West clearly knows this and executes it amazingly well in The Sacrament.

4 / 5 stars     


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      1. Tiago September 22, 2013 at 7:41 pm

        I was waiting on that review, just read the first part, and it seems really good. Thanx for the review.

      2. Tiago May 3, 2014 at 6:09 pm

        Boy did that movie suck. Comparing it to the house of the devil is just non sense. Really. This movie is bad found footage. how is the guy supossed to be operating 2 cameras at the same time? Overedited for a ff. If there was a omniscient angle, like a traditional narrative, it should be different than the camera from the crew. But no, we have impossible angles simultaniously shot by 1 camera.