The Sacrament, 2013
directed by Ti West
starring Gene Jones, Joe Swanberg, Kentucker Audley
Presented as part found footage and part pseudo-documentary, The Sacrament is a thrilling and disturbing tale about a religious group seeking isolation from the outside world and also about their omnipotent leader. Much of the story is a replication of the real life Jonestown Massacre in Guyana, but several events, the names, and the locations are changed. It might seem risky to have such a well known story be the general arc of a film, but The Sacrament has a few surprises and is so well paced and the atmosphere that builds eventually provokes genuine confusion, fear, and terror. The cloud of dread that begins to build in the early portions of the film erupts into thunder for the second half the movie. It’s a very quick and effective transition in mood, too, from skeptically optimistic to frenzied panic. At no point, either, does the film really slow down and the finish is absolutely adrenaline-filled.
Appropriately enough for a cult film, the best part of the movie is Gene Jones’ performance as the leader of the group known by everyone simply as Father. His performance is absolutely fantastic and is a tremendous representation of how a cult leader manipulates, controls, and brainwashes. Perhaps the best scene in the movie is the much awaited interview between one of the visiting reporters and Father. It does a great job highlighting the cunning way Father has gained control over the minds of everyone in the community. At the more sinister points, the camera zooms into the face of Father, his eyes barely visible through sunglasses. There are moments of silence, and moments with just enough forboding music playing quietly in the background. It’s an absolutely fantastic scene, but Jones’ performance throughout the whole movie is consistently excellent.
Nothing is held back in The Sacrament, and there are plenty of genuinely disturbing scenes. While the expected mass suicide is indeed difficult to watch, there are several other scenes that can definitely stick with you. There were only a few bits in the movie that momentarily ruined my immersion. Jones’ acting is well ahead of the rest of the cast, which overall is inconsistent. No one stands out as unconvincing, but no one else really stands out as impressive. There are also a few occasions of illogical, bizarre decisions made by characters that reminded me I was watching a movie. But, aside from that, I was absolutely absorbed in this movie and would definitely recommend it to any fans of slow-burning horror.