Thursday, 4 February 2016

the sacrament

the sacrament follows a photographer, patrick (kentucker audley), who receives a letter from his sister claiming she has joined some kind of cult and she wants him to visit. thinking she needs rescuing, patrick decides to take her up on her offer but brings two journalists with him to film the process, sam (a.j. bowen) and jake (joe swanberg). at first the group her sister has joined seems too good to be true, but then they discover a darkness beneath the seemingly perfect surface.

one thing i love about ti west is that he knows how to take his time getting to a story, and i mean that as a compliment. i love house of the devil. it's a film in which the main character walks around an empty house for the majority of the running time, and it's kind of perfect. the sacrament is no different - it's not until the fifty-minute mark that the problems with the cult begin to surface, and yet this rather unnatural elongating of the first act really works. it's almost like west uses a two act structure rather than the traditional three, because the break into the second act seems to happen just as we're getting into the third.

anyway, the first fifty minutes of this film are amazing. the performances are great, i believed in the characters and loved the fact that there's this tension bubbling beneath the surface throughout. it being a horror film it's obvious there will be something wrong, but like the best horror films the tension comes from guessing what exactly will go wrong and whether the characters will work it out in time. once things do go wrong, i started to lose interest.

the big problem for me was that the moment things kick off the format is practically abandoned. one of the characters still has his camera, but the other one loses his to one of the cult members. this person who steals the camera, someone who has never really used a camera before, then proceeds to film the most professional looking scene ever, with multiple angles and everything. there's no way it would have been filmed like that, and it's a real shame because it totally took me out of the story. the thing that's so disappointing about that moment is that it seems so unnecessary - i would have had no issue watching the scene through a series of shaky, handheld shots and in some ways that would have made it even more disturbing. instead, the found footage aspect is abandoned and we're watching a proper film again.

my other issue is that i wanted there to be more to the story. there are some nice, subtle hints about what the cult is up to and in some ways i liked that it wasn't spelt out, but at the same time the end result felt a bit derivative to me. to me the scary thing about a cult is the fear that they could be right. i loved the ending of red state, except it undermined the perfect ending by having another ten minutes of ending, but there's that moment (spoiler) where you think god has turned up to sort things out and the crazies were right all along. that's terrifying to me, and the sacrament did look like it was headed in that direction at one point. but no, this time the crazies are just crazy.

the sacrament is still a great film, particularly for the first hour, and there are some quite shocking surprises towards the end. also, i do think ti west has a really unique style so it's always worth watching his films.

the found footage blogathon will run throughout february in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.


  1. The only negative aspect that make me not want to watch it that much is the found footage format, other than that, it sounds interesting.

    1. as you may have noticed i love found footage films so i can't help you there. it is definitely worth checking out though, and the found footage aspect isn't as intrusive as it is with other films that use the format.

  2. I watched it last night. A terrific film. Gene Jones, who played Father, gives the best performance in the film. If I have a gripe it's that he wasn't given more screen time. I watched Cool Hand Luke right before watching The Sacrament and kept thinking of the similarities between Strother Martin's character, he played the captain of the work farm in Cool Hand Luke, and Father. A great, if not somewhat odd, double bill.

    1. cool, yeah he was pretty great actually. in the moment when he's interviewed you do get a sense of how he's managed to convince all these people to follow him. i did think he turned too quickly though, i would've liked to have seen more of him as well. haven't seen cool hand luke for ages! all i can remember is the egg scene, which always makes me feel slightly sick thinking about it. that is a great double bill, i quite often find myself watching weird combinations of films like that.