There are only a handful of horror filmmakers who are able to maintain their fan base, simply because of their name. Well, that happens to be the case for Ti West. He has become known for his stylized and slow-burn techniques, which continues to draw audiences in. West truly captured my attention with The House of the Devil, as it progressively formed an eerie atmosphere that ultimately delivered an impressive pay-off. More genre fans were brought onboard after seeing his ghost-driven picture titled The Innkeepers. While he had a few missteps, many horror fans became excited when news about The Sacrament started to be released. Is this a gem or another misstep in this filmmaker's career?
Patrick (Kentucker Audley) gets in touch with a couple of his friends after he begins to learn more about where his sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz), has been facing her personal demons. She has been staying at Eden Parish, which is a small community removed from society that seems like the perfect group of residents. Patrick's journalist friends, Sam (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg), join Patrick in a trip to visit Eden Parish to find Carolin. However, not everything is what it seems to be. Father (Gene Jones) may be the creator of this community, but he has a lot more control over the residents than the trio may believe.
This isn't your typical horror flick that has a story simply to hold the scares together. The Sacrament has feels like an authentic documentary about a community that wishes to pursue a more peaceful and simple way of life. Before the picture even starts to display its horror roots, it concentrates on the society by showing a series of interviews with the residents. This is the time for the audience to understand why these individuals have decided to give up everything for this lifestyle, and how it has affected their well-being. Each and every person gives their thanks to Father, although he remains as a mysterious voice behind an intercom for the majority of the running time. The Sacrament remains quite intriguing, as the story continues to build upon itself. There are numerous strange encounters that are had throughout these interviews, as the journalists begin to suspect that something more sinister is occurring underneath the seemingly calm surface.
Once we are introduced to Father, Ti West accelerates the pacing and reveals several chilling pieces of truth. The conversation had between Father and Sam is a memorable one, as it places us in the same uncomfortable situation as our lead. It doesn't take very long to notice that something is very odd about this interview. True evil lies within this man, and we only get to see the surface of this wicked leader. He's a powerful character with an interesting backstory. You'll fear him, yet be undeniably intrigued by the way he speaks. Ti West's screenplay gives him some powerful dialogue that draws us in and traps us. The Sacrament displays an act of control with a creepy execution that is sure to keep your attention from start to finish. Every word comes across as being a threat of some sort, and you'll never doubt that any of them are without the intent to be acted upon.
Unfortunately, Ti West's The Sacrament has the puzzle pieces to be a great horror film, but they don't all come together. There are some bits containing the typical social commentary, although it could have been tied together in a more intelligent way. While there's a message here, West could have used some help in telling it. Once you reach the film's climax, there are some powerful sequences that stuck with me after the credits were done rolling. However, the picture's final few minutes don't provide the same intensity. While there's a decent pay-off, it could have been stronger. While it's most certainly disturbing enough, it doesn't quite manage to maintain its tension through its entire third act.
The major group of independent horror directors continue to utilize the same cast, but they're clearly able to handle these different characters. AJ Bowen is impressive as Sam. He always carries a certain confidence and charm in every role, making him a pleasure to watch. Not only is he believable, but he creates a character that we can easily sympathize with. Joe Swanberg works with Bowen in order to create a nice equilibrium on screen between Sam's constant concerns and Jake's more transparent nature. Gene Jones might not have a lot of screen time, but he does a lot with the time that he does have. He delivers an ominous tension that provides the film with a largely eerie nature. If you're a genre fan, then you'll notice several recognizable faces. There isn't a single poor performance here, as the cast truly brings this film to life.
Even though this is technically a "found footage" style motion picture, a lot of thought has gone into the visuals. Ti West has successfully created a powerful atmosphere. It often looks and feels like a documentary. Once we reach the climax of the picture, he truly utilizes the camera takes, as well as the movements. West capitalizes on long takes and long shots in order to create more tension, leaving viewers feeling tremendously uncomfortable. There is enough movement to make it convincing, but you'll never feel nauseous. The visuals are quite impressive.
The concepts created behind Eden Parish are fairly strong. Writer/director Ti West almost always does a fantastic job at building tension, and this is no exception. As we continue to watch Sam and Jake interview the residents, the picture continues to feel more unsettling. We're never meant to feel comfortable, as it's supposed to have audiences sitting at the edge of their seats. The final act introduces some truly powerful and disturbing sequences, although the ending doesn't quite stand up to the standards created by the remainder of the picture.. Regardless, there are enough eerie elements to keep us quite invested. The Sacrament is a suspenseful and unsettling experience that genre fans will be glad to be a part of. Recommended.
The Sacrament is currently on VOD and will be released in theaters on June 6, 2014.