Ti West is an interesting filmmaker, his films generally seem to be the slow burn horror/thriller that get right under your skin. I really liked and enjoyed The House Of The Devil and The Innkeepers, so stepping into The Sacrament I thought I knew what I was getting into, boy was I wrong!
The Sacrament is Ti West’s debut working within the ‘found footage’ subgenre, however the footage doesn’t get lost. Instead it is more of a mockumentary, taking cues from the real life Jonestown tragedy. The film follows photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley), and VICE documentarians Jake (Joe Swanberg) and Sam (AJ Bowen). They decide to investigate where Patrick’s sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) has ended up after joining a commune to help get her clean after a struggle with drugs. Finding out Caroline is no longer in the US, Patrick gets invited to visit her, he takes Jake and Sam with him, who want to document on film what happens. They are taken to a very remote community, country unknown, that is guarded by men with guns. The community take their cues from a figure called ‘Father’ (Gene Jones), the guys quickly find out that the members of the community have sold everything to live there and something just does not add up.
If you are familiar with the Jonestown tragedy you’ll likely know how this film will go, and if you aren’t all that familiar you can take this as a retelling with names changed and a camera crew. Clearly Father is a cult figure, his commune is obviously a cult. He controls them with his charisma and his own views that make sense to a certain type of person. The man knows how to manipulate, and it is evident that Ti West not only studied the events of Jonestown, but studied cults in general. He has crafted a very honest look at what happens in these types of communities and the strong hold one person can have over a large group.
Having always had an interest in cults, this film really appealed to me. Knowing a lot about Jonestown heightened its appeal to me as well, and being thrown into this setting was almost unsettling. One big flaw I found with this film was the fact that it had opening credits, when a film presents itself as a documentary style, filmed with hand held cameras you don’t want to be taken out of that element. The opening credits certainly made me aware I was watching a film, and if I were Ti West I would have not used them at all. It could have been a fully immersed experience, but it wasn’t and that was the one big flaw I found.
It does however get everything else right, the feel of the film (opening credits aside) felt very raw and very real. The acting from everyone was right up there, and these group of actors have worked together before and they do have a natural rapport. Getting to the isolated community was well handled and the way the men approach the situation felt genuine. As they enter the commune it all is very unsettling despite the fact people seem happy and it looks peaceful. But once you hear about Father, it is apparent what this is and these people are being duped. As things progress it does become more unsettling, and the outcome is something so shocking to see, to me that is pure horror.
One can’t really enjoy a film like this, so much as appreciate it. I do appreciate this film and everything Ti West has accomplished with it, the look and feel were pretty spot on. The casting was exceptional, especially with Gene Jones as Father – the Jim Jones character from the real Jonestown. He is charismatic and scary, a very unsettling character who even sported a very similar look to Jim Jones. This is a film I would recommend to those who are fans of Ti West, want something a little different out of a horror film and those interested in cults. I really did get a lot out of The Sacrament and I must thank Bede for the recommendation.