It’s about a couple of journalists who document a man’s search for his missing sister which leads them to a remote, isolated community lead by a mysterious figure known simply as Father. The population is largely made up of people with troubled pasts. At first the documentarians are impressed with this peaceful utopia. They soon discover something sinister and disturbing hiding behind the seemingly lovely facade. The similarity to the Jonestown Massacre isn’t an accident. It was one of the things that drew West to this particular story. The Sacrament utilizes a documentary approach. It assists at grounding the story in reality, as well as a clever way of having us experience the chain of events along with the characters. We only bear witness to whatever their camera records. In other words, certain plot details may be left unanswered. Horror films are generally scarier when certain aspects are left to the imagination. On occasion, it gets a tad contrived as to why the camera is still rolling especially during the third act. Plus, I swear there were a few angles popping up which had me wondering if there was another camera operator I was unaware of. Other than that, this storytelling device worked for me.
The Sacrament stars A.J. Bowen, Amy Seimetz and Joe Swanberg, who you may recognize from Adam Wingard’s You’re Next and A Horrible Way To Die. As always, Seimetz is completely convincing as the sister, a woman who’s traded one addiction for another. I’m certain Bowen and Swanberg’s compelling portrayals help make The Sacrament West’s most briskly paced to date. Gene Jones as Father has created one of the most magnetic and original antagonists to ever grace the big screen. From the very first frame he appears, you’re instantly taken aback by his undeniable presence. I liked how West paints just a portrait of the man. He understands that the less we know about Father, the more intimidating he becomes. His introduction or as I’d like to refer it as the “interview” scene is chilling to the core. It’s that pivotal moment in the film in which West establishes that sense of dread and for the remainder of the film, methodically keeps turning it up. The atmosphere is downright suffocating. Jones’s performance will most likely be the finest we’ll see from the genre this year. I also appreciated Tyler Bates’ score. I loved how his quietly menacing music is juxtapositioned against tranquil imagery of the “harmless” community. Bates creates a sense of unease long before West starts to crank up the heat in the disturbing third act.
The Sacrament might very well be West’s finest work to date. While the third act is drawn out a little longer than it probably should, it doesn’t take away from the powerful finale. The violence in the film feels all too real. It might disappoint genre fans expecting something more gruesome but that’s not what West is shooting for. The Sacrament is more of a psychological thriller than anything else. The only thing that really associates it with horror is the genuinely frightening situation our protagonists find themselves in. This is real life horror with an antagonist more monstrous than any made up one. This is a figure right out of the headlines. The Sacrament crawls under your skin and stays there long after it’s over.
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