Celtic lore is one of those inherently spooky things that, sadly, has not had the opportunity to shine in the world of traditional horror movies. Sure, Halloween III: Season of the Witch was actually an intriguing Celtic fairy tale disguised as a bad sequel, and Samhain in general is often referenced in various films like Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat, but very few films have the guts to dive headfirst into this ancient and potentially creepy culture. This is why Peter A. Dowling’s new thriller, Sacrifice, stands out from the crowd with a conspiracy that steers away from the usual antichrists and satanic cults.
Sacrifice, based on the eponymous mystery novel by S.J. Bolton, stars Radha Mitchell, of Silent Hill fame, as Dr. Tora Hamilton, an outsider who moves to the Shetland Islands with her native husband Duncan Guthrie, played by Rupert Graves (Inspector Lestraud from BBC’s Sherlock), after a miscarriage. Although the sparsely populated region seems peaceful at first, Dr. Hamilton begins to suspect that the Islands hold a terrifying secret once she uncovers the preserved remains of a young woman on her property, with injuries suggesting a brutal ritualistic murder.
While the supporting cast, featuring Ian McElhinney, David Robb and others, does a great job at providing the viewer of a false sense of security, Radha steals the show as a resourceful and tenacious woman, willing to face the wrath of her entire community in order to discover what is really going on in her new home. Much like her role in Silent Hill, Radha carries the plot, grounding it with a believable character. That being said, a compelling protagonist doesn’t quite fix a generally by-the-numbers story, even with the refreshing premise. With twists that observant viewers will guess from a mile away, you’ll end up caring more about character development and drama than the mystery itself.
Even so, the northern Scottish setting is insanely atmospheric and almost ethereal, with foggy landscapes and rocky beaches that help sell Dr. Hamilton’s isolation and internal turmoil, making for continuously interesting visuals, despite the generally uninspired script. The soundtrack also contributes to this foreboding atmosphere, though it’s not as memorable as other aspects of Sacrifice. This quasi-supernatural ambience feels like a better antagonist than the actual scheming villains of the film, which is both a good and a bad thing.
In films like Sacrifice, where the overall plot takes a backseat to character moments and internal conflicts, your enjoyment of the experience really depends on how accepting you are of the setting and general look of the movie. The Celtic influences and Scottish scenery embellish this regrettably predictable plot, turning what could have been a boring genre film into a slow yet entertaining thriller akin to Rosemary’s Baby or even Ti West’s The House of the Devil, though not exactly as good as either of these examples. Radha Mitchell’s Aussie charm, however, is just the icing on an already well-baked cake.