I know that people will give me flak, and others will agree, but I’m not the biggest fan of Eli Roth. Despite being hailed as one of the “Splat Pack”, the guy’s really only done five films in his career starting in 1998. While I know that’s still more than some members of the group, and the fact that Roth has dabbled in producing and acting, he still comes across as more of a spokesperson for horror rather than someone who has broken new ground. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. Roth has had his hand in producing several successful films and helping out younger directors. One of whom is Ti West. Fresh from directing segments in V/H/S and The ABCs of Death, West returned to feature-length work with the Jonestown-inspired The Sacrament.
Patrick (Kentucker Audley) is a fashion photographer who travels to meet his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) at Eden Parish, a remote Caribbean island commune in which she’s been living since she left her drug rehab program. In spite of Caroline’s lack of details regarding the happenings in the commune, Patrick travels to Eden Parish with his friends and co-workers Sam (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg), who are hoping to score a story for their employer, Vice Magazine. Once there, Patrick is met by his sister, who seems much happier and healthier than she did when Patrick last saw her. Sam and Jake begin filming interviews with Eden Parish’s inhabitants, all of whom sing praises of the commune. However, once they’re introduced to the head of Eden Parrish, a man referred to only as The Father (Gene Jones), the sinister truth about the commune quickly comes out.
Now before some of you moan and rage over another found-footage film, this is one time that it works. Yes, there’s a bit of shaky cam involved, but not to the point that it’s distracting or annoying. And yeah, it’s obvious that the film has been altered in post to have the picture more akin to what you’d see on television, but that’s the point. West’s decision to go the found-footage route gives the film a very visceral feel, upping the tension and those uneasy feelings as if you’re there witnessing the entire thing. It also gives West the excuse for some of the shots to look as good as they do, as the guys who are supposed to be filming those shots? Their jobs are to make it look like that good. It’s almost like they’re reporters or something, you know?
The biggest draw for this film is the cast. Every player is on the ball. Audley not only gets the wheels turning for this film, but you believe in his character’s concern for his sister. Likewise, Amy Seimetz does a great job of portraying a psychologically fragile individual in Amy, who is ripe to be preyed upon. Speaking of which, Gene Jones is definitely the standout for this film as The Father. The way the man talks and acts fits the definition of a cult of personality perfectly. Behind the smiles, there is definitely an evil streak, and Jones has you believing that his character could have his followers literally do whatever he wanted them to do. West also has his mainstays in Bowen and Swanberg, who also contribute nicely to the film. Even though Swanberg is relegated to being behind the camera for much of the film, he still plays a significant role that eventually leads to the film’s climax.
In spite of the cast’s work and how mesmerizing Jones is in his role, the film falters in a couple of areas. One area is the fact that some of the characters could’ve been given more attention past their introductions. Leaving some of them not fully developed was probably a tough decision, since it probably would have disturbed the pacing of the film had we been given more time. Still, it feels like there’s more that we’re not seeing. The other sore spot is that if you’ve been doing your homework and researched what happened in Jonestown, you’re going to be kind of disappointed, since West follows closely what eventually happened there in his film. In other words, you know what’s going to happen. I know, it’s a bit of a spoiler, but even then, you still get the sense of what’s going to happen, even if you didn’t know about Jonestown. It’s still quite disturbing and horrifying, but at the same time, you’ve seen it before.
Regardless, The Sacrament definitely deserves top marks for being one creepy thriller. The cast do a remarkable job in their roles, and Jones is absolutely perfect. The violence is not particularly gory, but it definitely didn’t have to be, since the tension and the emotional quotient take care of the horror part, and I liked it. If you’re in the mood for a found-footage film that takes advantage of the concept and executes it almost flawlessly, or are looking for your doomsday cult fix, then look no further than The Sacrament.
Presented in an AVC encoded 1.78.1 widescreen 1080p transfer, The Sacrament looks quite good. Detail is very good, even with the added grain and tweaks to the picture to give it more of a film look. Colour reproduction is great, with the greens of the jungle being the ones that stand out the most. Black levels are good, skin tones look accurate and quite lifelike. The only real drawbacks are in the darker scenes, when the shadows tend to swallow much of the picture and it’s detail.
Audio-wise, the film gets an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. While most of the sound is relegated to the front, the track still puts out some great directionality and immersion. Dialogue is kept in the centre, and is clear and free of distortion. Tyler Bates’ score hits in the right places in creating ominous and tense moments. Bass is appropriate for this type of film and isn’t overpowering. Overall, the track is very good.
First up is an audio commentary with writer/director Ti West and actors AJ Bowen and Amy Seimetz. The trio have a lot to say about making this movie, and make this an easy and well-paced listen. Ti talks about things such as the writing process, his experience working with producer Eli Roth, shooting the film in Georgia, the happenings on the set, as well as deleted footage that unfortunately was not included on the disc. Why people do this in commentaries drives me nuts. Bowen and Seimetz chime in with some insightful comments about their experiences in front of the camera, as well as discuss their characters.
Following that is a twenty-one minute featurette called Creating The Sacrament: Revealing The Vision, which includes interviews with producer Eli Roth, director Ti West and some members of the cast and crew. Topics include the experience of filming in Georgia, the film’s references to Jonestown, the characters, the origins of some of the ideas used for the film and more. It’s an interesting chat that compliments the commentary without repeating too much information.
Working with the Director: The Ti West Experience is your typical piece gushing over the director by the cast and crew, saying how wonderful it was to work on the film with West, how great he is, etc.
Preparing for Takeoff: Behind the Scenes Helicopter Sequence is a picture-in-picture sequence that shows the film footage of the aforementioned sequence in a small window, while the rest of the picture is the footage of the sequences being shot. The whole thing just shows the differences between what was shot, and what the final cut looks like.
AXS TV: A Look at The Sacrament rounds out the extras as your typical three-minute EPK puff piece that just functions as a brief overview of the film.
Also included are six bonus trailers, none of which are for The Sacrament.
Overall, the Blu-Ray shows off some great audio and video, with some good extras. Again, the deleted footage that West talks about in the commentary is absent (again, why do they do this?!), along with the film’s trailer. In regards to the deleted footage, this would’ve been a much-welcomed addition, since it would’ve fleshed out those areas of the film that needed development.
And come on, including trailers for your own film are a no-brainer.