The Sacrament ★★★½

Unlike Ti West's previous two films, The Sacrament isn't necessarily a horror film but it can definitely be argued as one. What I loved about his first film House of the Devil is that the build up was really well done. Some may write the movie off as kind of boring because nothing really that scary happens until about the last act, but there's nothing more disturbing than not knowing what's lingering around the corner and finally having it exposed with such terror that it gets engraved in your head long after you've finished it. Like Rosemary's Baby, Ti West made a name for himself creating psychological horror movies that have a supernatural element grounded in a very realistic situation. His next movie The Innkeepers, while not nearly as good, has this very bizarre mix of horror house comedy and old school terror, which again doesn't creep up until near the end.

The Sacrament is formulaically pretty consistent with Ti West's previous films but narratively it's much different for several reasons. It's filmed in this mix between found footage and mockumentary, which at times actually kind of made it feel tonally all over the place, but at the very least it gives the movie a very realistic feel, making the tense atmosphere much more resonant afterwards.

The Sacrament sees some of Ti West's familiar faces with Sam (House of the Devil's AJ Bowen), a Guerrilla reporter who, after getting asked by Patrick (V/H/S's Kentucker Audley) to join him in finding an obscure segregated community where his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) now lives and has invited him to visit. Joined by cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg), Sam is welcomed by the strangely religious community who seem extremely friendly but beneath the exterior have a dark soul. The community is run by a man aptly named Father, played to eerie perfection by Gene Jones, and the entire movie takes place within a span of about 24 hours.

With his crew ready, Sam and Jake follow everyone around and interview their day-to-day activities. The more they spend time with these people, the weirder they get and in a powerful scene, Sam interviews Father where Jones gives one of the most sinister and frightening performances of the year. It's the key scene in the movie, where every muscle in your body just becomes catatonic and you have absolutely no clue what's about to happen. All I'll say is, what comes in the preceding hours isn't good for Sam and his friends.

The film is essentially an homage to the Jonestown murders in the '70s led by a man weirdly named Jim Jones (if that isn't a creepy coincidence, I don't know what is). The clever thing Ti West did though was he made Sam and Jake part of the crew working at Vice, which is a real news company filled with people who travel the world and engage in some pretty dangerous neighborhoods in order to bring the most authentic news of that kind. If you know much abotu Jonestown, you'll probably know how the movie plays out which is why I feel it wasn't as good as West's previous films. Sure there are a lot of elements of dread littered throughout, especially in the scenes where the camera is flailing around and you have no idea what's about to happen, but it still is made in a style I'm not yet comfortable with. The hand held "found footage" style of filmmaking can be clever at times (Chronicle), and effective for horror (The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcism) but it gets old really quickly. I think if The Sacrament was perhaps made more like a straightforward found footage film it wouldn't bother me so much, but there are moments where it cuts to camera angles that weren't previously established, and it just feels staged.

Ultimately, The Sacrament is a pretty terrifying movie but not a very good horror movie. I think Ti West is an extraordinarily competent director but I really wish he'd go back to making stuff similar to The House of the Devil because it now just feels like he's trying to do too much. Yes, experimenting with different styles is commendable but for me it just didn't work here as well as it could have. Still, it does have an extraordinary performance at the center of it all, some very good set design and a harrowing finale, definitely worth checking out. If this movie is marketed well, I can see it making a good amount of money. I only hope that people go home after seeing it and research Jonestown and then perhaps it'll affect them a little more.

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