REVIEW: THE SACRAMENT / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: TI WEST / SCREENPLAY: TI WEST / STARRING: JOE SWANBERG, AJ BOWEN, AMY SEIMETZ, GENE JONES, KENTUCKER AUDLEY / RELEASE DATE: US (VOD NOW), UK (TBC)
Eagerly awaited, the latest from writer/director West builds up the tension and anxiety to lead up to the inevitable, but devastatingly tragic climax.
Sam (Bowen) and Jake (Swanberg) provide investigative content for the alternative news website, Vice. When they learn the sister of their friend, Patrick (Audley) has gone missing from her drug rehabilitation programme and taken abroad by a cult, the journalists decide to make an immersive documentary of their trip to the reclusive commune known as Eden Parish with the intention of rescuing Caroline (Seimetz). They are told it's a peaceful, loving place but they get an uneasy feeling when they are met from their helicopter by security guards toting guns. Their pilot instructs them to be there before 9am the following day, or he will leave without them. However, when they get to the compound, Caroline makes it clear she does not want to leave. so they request to interview a few people, including the group's leader, known as 'Father' (Jones). He obliges them, but takes their inquisitiveness as hostile, out-talking them the whole time, which only makes them even more suspicious of his true motives.
With its roots in several real-life cases, West's (literal) cult movie is a terrifying study of extremism and brain-washing. Although the approach is fairly unbiased, allowing for some shocks and surprises along the way. Jones is brilliant as the smooth-talking, enigmatic, Southern gentleman in charge of the hyper-religious community. The scene in which 'Father' is interviewed by Sam is full of apprehension and knife-edge atmosphere. Yet, so charismatic is this leader that it's hard to argue against his reasons for leaving 'society' behind. Faced with outsiders, possibly offering a way out, the cracks in the retreat's beliefs begin to show, and the situation escalates at an alarming pace.
Using a pseudo-documentary approach (not found footage as some have commented, although the obligatory POV shots and shaky-cam shooting are all present), West manages to put us right in the middle of the drama. It also allows the impressive and affecting score by Tyler Bates (Sucker Punch) to work its magic and provide a constant feeling of dread and disquiet. Although it will no doubt be labelled 'horror' due to West's previous output, and the prominence of Eli Roth's production credit in the publicity, The Sacrament is more akin to horrific social commentary. Rewarding, compelling viewing for those prepared to give it a chance.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10