Paradise lost - mild spoilers.
- The Sacrament review by NP
‘The Sacrament’ is one of those found-footage films that likes to push the boundaries of the formula. Or in other words, what we have here emerges as a hybrid of the found-footage convention and ‘traditional’ film-making. Scrutiny reveals that not everything could possibly have been recorded by AJ Bowen’s Sam Turner, despite imaginative efforts to get us to believe so. Equally, the addition of an occasional incidental score at moments of great tension seem to indicate either that the character’s added this in their own fictional post-production, or this is a regular project put through the found-footage ‘filter’.
I use the word ‘fictional’ – here again, nothing is that straightforward: although I didn’t realise it when watching, this is based on the 1978 Jonestown atrocity in which a charismatic cult leader orchestrated a mass ‘revolutionary suicide’. The leader’s name was Jim Jones; in ‘The Sacrament’, the actor playing the cult leader is Gene Jones. Ooyah.
I wouldn’t suggest that Jones was employed because of his name, however, far from it. His performance as ‘Father’, who benignly resides over the residents of Eden Parish, is excellent. Laconic and avuncular one moment, sharp and menacing the next. A tremendous character.
Amy Seimetz plays Caroline, who has transformed herself from a lowly world of drug abuse to the hippie heights of Eden Parish. Except, as her brother Patrick (Kentucker Audley) and film-maker Jake (Joe Swanberg) find out when visiting her, the gun-toting guards present an image that is anything other than peace and love. Jake’s wife at home, is pregnant. This informs the sympathy he feels a little mute girl who, alongside her frightened mother, implore the visitors to get them away from the place. As was ever pretty opbvious, there is an evil at the heart of Eden Parish.
Director Ti West makes an excellent job of this, with the cast all providing well-crafted and rounded characters, and a real sense of menace that makes the ‘tranquility’ enjoyed by all the collected waifs and strays perversely unnatural. The occasional moments of gore, mostly saved for the atrocities toward the end, are subtle and very effective. The sense of the scale of wilful disaster here is unsettling, all the more so as it is orchestrated by the caring resident nurse. An excellent film, not entirely surprising in the story it tells, but powerfully carried out. My score is 8 out of 10.
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