Tuesday 2 September 2014

Review: The Sacarment

Year: 2013 (U.K. Release 2014)
Director: Ti West
Screenplay: Ti West
Starring: Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Kate Lyn Sheil

Synopsis is here

I didn’t give The Sacrament further thought after watching it and there lies the problem. The idea is a strong. Something that I usually enjoy pursuing. The writer/director behind the film is one I admire and generally enjoy his work. The problem I found is that the main influence of the movie, was much more terrifying in real life than anything The Sacrament throws at us. If you’ve seen the terrifying documentary Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006), then this may seem like an unnecessary appendix.

Ti West is a curious filmmaker. I enjoy the genuine affection he has given to his previous, vintage tinged horror. I’m also a big fan of the unhurried pace of his storytelling. Allowing the unease to creep into the frame.  In both The Innkeepers (2011) and The House of the Devil (2009), West pulls off the difficult task of making the mundane feel macabre and does so by giving his scenes a touch more breathing space.  He once again tests the attention spans of some of the more easily distracted patrons, but giving The Sacrament a similar pace. The length has been never my issue with this film, however as the films other elements never seemed to gel.

Despite being a “found footage” horror, the film’s smooth camera work does little to instill the fear of god. Add to this the film’s flat dialogue, awkward performances and the films wish to try and recreate the Jonestown massacre like an overtly polished crime re-enactment more than a film in its own right. Unlike Kevin Smith’s grim and grubby Red State (2011), which holds the right balance between its influences and Smith’s fictional aspects, The Sacrament feels too much like mimicry to stand out on its own. 
Whereas Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple  manage to startle with its small inserts of grainy VHS footage, allowing the survivors recounting of the story to fill in the gaps. The Sacrament explicitness only ever feels forced. Small moments are effective. Reaction shots of children obliviously sucking down Kool-Aid are unsettling, while Gene Jones’ “father” has a distinct sleaziness to his charming speeches.

The film, however, never gets really gets under the skin as it should. Strangely, it feels slightly too close to the material, it’s influenced by, yet holds none of the power. It’s a shame the film never reaches the same woozy feeling that the likes of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003) creates, although that movie is more intelligent with its usage of points of view. The Sacarament stumbles over simpler aspects. West’s found footage movie suffers from the tropes which annoy others when they watch similar films. A camera is dropped when a character tries to evade gunman. The solders fine the camera a leave it (after dropping typical explanatory dialogue) and then leave the camera, despite being extremely wary of the filming near the beginning of the film. Other cameras clearly get destroyed while filming, yet have footage that blend seamlessly with the rest of the film. The found footage is an interesting angle, but awkwardly utilised. That said, the film’s opening segments lend a certain web 2.0 authority to them.

The Sacarment never feels like it cracks the veneer of civility in the way that one would like. Certain parts feel too manufactured, while other aspects have a clumsiness about them I just wouldn’t expect. The Sacrament won’t put me off the next Ti West film, but this entry feels all very surface level. Particularly where other flawed yet provocative films about cults have been released recently. The Sacrament has a competency that raises it above a few one or two found footage films, but it never manages to capture the spirit of the time like it could. Better luck next time.