Hey, if a Southerner has a certain way with words, I too would follow him anywhere.
Fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) gets a strange letter from his sister (Amy Seimetz), who he knew went away to a rehab of sorts and is inviting him. Patrick decides to tell his buddies (Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen) this and considering they’re both journalists who love whenever a good story comes their way, all three of them take the trip out to see just what this secret place is really all about. What all three discover, at first, is a pretty shady place considering it has guards defending it with AK-47s and tells them to turn off their cameras or don’t come in at all. Eventually they’re allowed in and they see the type of safe haven this place was being hailed as by Patrick’s sister. There’s food, a hospital, goats, and heck, even a day-care center for the young, as well as the old. It seems like the pretty ideal place for anybody who has ever came at a crossroads in their life and needed a change, and mostly all of that can be credited to a man everyone knows as “Father” (Gene Jones). Though he hardly comes out at all, Father decides to do an interview for the camera-crew, which is when strange things start happening around the camp and the three guys realize that maybe there’s something dark and sinister lingering beneath what’s being shown to them as “perfect”.
With his past two flicks (the House of the Devil, the Innkeepers), if there’s one thing that Ti West shows, is that he knows a thing or two about creating, building up, and maintaining tension. In both cases, we get a sense that West is just reeling us in, more and more, for something big and completely terrifying to happen, yet, we don’t care all that much about it because we’re so swept-up in having him distract us with other stuff. That other stuff being character-development, ideas, and a feeling of some “fun” in the air.
However, while West still shows us here that he knows a thing or two about making tension, he still loses everything else that made his movies so worth while in the first place: Their personalities.
And it’s not like West’s other movies have shown him to have a keen-sense of humor in any way, but he’s shown us that he’s able to tell one story, while simultaneously hinting at us that there’s another one just brewing somewhere in the deep end. Here though, it feels like there’s nothing else here except for what Ti West presents: A found-footage horror movie documenting a cult, that clearly resembles the same one of Jonestown. I guess just stating that fact in and of itself could be seen as a bit of a “spoiler”, but to be honest, you get the sense of what’s going to happen as soon as we enter the camp.
We all know that there’s some dark, mysterious and disturbing force hidden behind all of the happiness and smiles, and while the mystery itself may keep us interested, it’s not hard to see what the end-result of it all is going to be. The only aspect that really could keep us even more glued are the characters, and for the most part, they’re all pretty boring. Which is a shame because when you have a hand-held camera film such as this, the one thing you can depend on working are the characters themselves and whether or not they’re worth rooting for, even if/when they make/say stupid decisions. West hasn’t really written anybody out to be at all interesting, just as plain as you could see them.
Which is very disappointing considering the great cast he’s assembled, who are all, essentially, people that he’s worked with in the past five years or so – AJ Bowen plays the main reporter who wants to ask all of the questions and get down to the bottom of this cult, while still dealing with issues at home with he and his pregnant-wife; Joe Swanberg plays who is basically “the camera guy” and says some snappy line here and there, but doesn’t get nearly as much to do here with his face blocked; Amy Seimetz is, at first, quite chilling because you never know what to make of her character, but as she begins to get more and more developed, then Seimetz’s starts playing a bit more over-the-top and crazy. Maybe that’s how she was told to play it, I don’t know, but I will say that it’s a very B-ish performance in a movie that never knows whether it wants to be smart, sophisticated, and trying to get its point across, or just be another freaky, fun, and chilling found-footage that wants to place us, the audience in front of all the action.
In fact, the only time whenever the movie seems to have any sort of bright ideas just rolling around, is whenever Gene Jones shows up as the almighty and alluring “Father”. I’ve never seen Jones in anything before, and although I definitely might have and I just totally forgot, I’ll make sure to never make that same mistake twice considering he’s great here and never allows himself to get too far, or too deep into this movie’s own wackiness. Jones, for what it’s worth, plays mostly everything subtle and by being able to hind behind those dark, thinly-rimmed glasses of his, we never truly have an idea what he’s thinking, or going to do next; all we know is that he’s a simple man who has a certain power over all of these people, and you can totally feel it everytime he’s in front of the camera and talking about God knows what (no seriously).
However, he’s not really in the film all that much, and it shows. Whenever he’s not around, his presence is felt in the air, as if he himself is a guardian angel just looking down upon everybody else around him. Okay, maybe that’s giving the dude too much credit, but I’ll put it like this: When the best part of your whole movie is in it for about 15 minutes, you may have yourself a huge problem. And a huge problem is exactly what Ti West has.
Next time, dude, stay away from the hand-held cameras. It’s a style just waiting to die out.
Consensus: Ti West still has his sense of creating tension, yet somehow, with the Sacrament, he can never quite maintain it as well as he’s been able to show in the past, which is mostly due to the fact that the story is conventional and at times, too wacky to be taken as seriously as it wants to be.
5 / 10 = Rental!!