Review: THE SACRAMENT (2014){0}

You think you know what to expect from Ti West by now. Like many horror movie nutcases, you saw The Innkeepers and/or House of the Devil, and maybe you went back and dug up The Roost and Trigger Man. Hell, you could have even given Cabin Fever 2 a fair shot. (Big mistake.) But if you think you know all of Ti West’s tricks, well, prepare to be pleasantly surprised — because the man’s latest indie chiller may just be his darkest, deepest, and freakiest feature so far. It’s called The Sacrament, it’s one of those new-fangled “found footage” presentations, and it’s another shining example of how you can cook up a truly haunting piece of horror with only a handful of cameras, a few good actors, a realistically creepy premise, and some subtle but obvious craftsmanship behind the camera.

Like most of Mr. West’s films, The Sacrament demands a little patience from its viewer — but those who are willing to play along with the filmmaker’s style will often be treated to some very satisfying pay-offs. This time around the “slow burn” set-up involves a trio of investigative journalists who are flown to an undisclosed location to help “rescue” a young woman from a mysterious commune. But after Sam (AJ Bowen), Jake (Joe Swanberg), and Patrick (Kentucker Audley) butt heads with gun-toting security guards and then discover that Caroline (Amy Seimetz) doesn’t seem to need rescuing, they go about documenting the weird but peaceful Eden Parish commune for their Vice blog.

Things go from tense to calm to legitimately messed up once the communal patriarch known simply as “The Father” agrees to an interview with Sam. Let’s just close the plot synopsis right there, reiterate that this is indeed a slow-paced (but not boring) piece of scary storytelling, and perhaps offer the opinion that this is Ti West’s darkest, smartest, and most gut-punch memorable film to date. What’s often referred to as a “slow burn” could be better described as “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” and that’s doubly accurate in the case of The Sacrament.

We all know that something terrible is going to happen; we just don’t know when, how, or why. As in his last two films, West seems to know precisely what the audience is expecting, and he takes great delight in subverting their wishes and making them wait — and then wait a little more — for all hell to break loose. What some may see as “slow and uneventful storytelling” I see as “subtle and masterfully sustained suspense.” Not all horror films have to be paced like action movies, so it’s nice to note that at least one of genre’s more prolific young directors bucks the formulaic trends and makes films for people who aren’t in a huge hurry to get to the payoffs.

In addition to fine work from indie stalwarts Bowen, Swanberg, and Seimetz, The Sacrament features a malevolently memorable performance from Gene Jones as “Father.” The flick also features a deeply effective musical score from Tyler Bates, some very clever editing for a “faux documentary” film, and some rather novel techniques for “first person” cinematography.

Best of all, The Sacrament offers a believable reason as to why these guys would keep shooting footage once things get dangerously out of control. If you can’t give the viewer a good reason as to why the cameras are still rolling once all the found footage freakiness kicks in, your movie probably isn’t all that interesting. The Sacrament is not only interesting, but often fascinating, challenging, and (before all is said and done) more than a little disturbing.

Like I said earlier: if you sit down prepared to be a little bit patient (it’s not even a very long movie!) there’s a good chance you’ll appreciate the mystery, the suspense, the shocks, and the payoffs that The Sacramenthas to offer. With all due respect toThe Innkeepers and House of the Devil – two very good thrillers – The Sacrament may be Ti West’s angriest, cleverest, and most accomplished feature yet.

Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg)

The Sacrament is in UK cinemas and on VOD on June 6, and on US VOD now. Follow @Ti_West and @TheHorrorShowTV for more info.

Review previously published at Reprinted by permission.