FILM REVIEW: The Sacrament (2013)

Matt Dean delves into Eden Parish to find out first hand if Ti West has made another classic horror film that genre fans will be talking about for years to come. Come...take his hand...and check out his review of...The Sacrament!

The Sacrament, Ti West’s tenth time sitting in the director’s chair, arrived today on multiple VOD platforms a full month before its June 6th theatrical release date. As I’ve stated numerous times, Ti West may be my favorite horror director working today. He’s a longtime fan of the genre and that fact really shows. His attention to detail and his ability to make a film feel like it was yanked from another decade of horror history is uncanny. Whether it’s devil worshipers in The House of the Devil, ghosts in The Innkeepers, zombies in Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever  or knife-brandishing females in the V/H/S  segment “Second Honeymoon”, the man has a knack for horror like few do in this the year of our Lord, 2014.

Before I get too far into reviewing this film and accidentally drink from the wrong pitcher of Kool-Aid, let me get something off of my chest. I’m not usually a fan of film’s preceding their titles with “(Insert Famous Name)…Presents”. Like this film is doing with “Eli Roth Presents”. I think the first time that I came across this was back in 1993 when Quentin Tarantino Presents Iron Monkey  came out. I understand it; it’s a movie Quentin is passionate about, he probably executive produced it, wished he’d made it, etc., but I think it’s just lazy marketing. Since Iron Monkey, QT has put his name on a whole slew of films, each varying in their qualities, and the trend has caught on for other directors as well. M. Night Shyamalan Presents Devil  is a recent genre film that comes to mind. The most flagrant use of this has to be “Quentin Tarantino Presents Eli Roth’s Hostel”. Especially because Eli has now adopted this technique for his own cinematic pets, such as Eli Roth Presents Aftershock  and the film that I will be discussing today. Like I said, I get it, but I just wish films would have the courage to stand on their own merits or stick with featuring a quote prominently from said director. OK, onto the brainwashing!

The film starts out like any other VICE correspondent video does. For those of you that don’t know, VICE is a magazine that travels the globe reporting on pretty much every interesting facet of modern life. From war-torn countries, to underground sex dens to the craziest eateries; VICE covers it all and they’re not afraid to get messy, to get interactive and to document and report the happenings as they really are. I’d suggest looking up their website and YouTube channel if any of that interests you. So, we’re given the introduction that one of the correspondent’s sisters kind of fell off the map and went to live in a small rural “community” in Mississippi. This information was included in a letter he received from her, as well as a phone number to contact her with. When he calls the number, however, he’s told that the entire community – including his sister – moved out of the country to a remote village in the jungle. Of course, the crew sees this as a perfect opportunity to turn this “Family Reunion” into a possible VICE article. Patrick, Sam (AJ Bowen of You’re Next, The House of the Devil, A Horrible Way to Die) and Jake (Joe Swanberg of You’re Next, V/H/S, Drinking Buddies) load up their cameras and backpacks and schedule the trek into the heart of darkness. Expecting to find a hippy commune, they’re more than surprised to find armed guards waiting for them when they get off of the helicopter. As they descend unto the commune grounds they’re greeted with a series of signs. “This”, “Is”, “It”, and, finally: “Eden Parish”.

I think at this time it’s important to point out the meanings of some of these words. Sacrament means a religious ceremony or act of the Christian Church that is regarded as an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual divine grace so, basically, a baptism; the needed outward action of an inner change. Eden obviously refers to the Biblical Garden of Eden - the garden in which all life was cultivated. A parish is (in the Christian Church) a small administrative district typically having its own church and a priest or pastor. However, simply hearing the word ‘parish’ could alternatively be heard as ‘perish’ which means to suffer death, typically in a violent, sudden, or untimely way. It seems as though this entire ordeal is going to end bloodily and for religious reasons. And let's not even get into the words "pray" and "prey".

Meanwhile we are introduced to much of the community members. Old ladies and old men, little girls and babies, fully grown and strong men, all different races; it seems like any diversity group would find this place a suitable breeding ground for progressive thinking. They all seem sane and very level-headed - all of them with different reasons for clinging to a community such as this. They mention that they all sold their possessions and that’s how they could afford to build this ‘Eden’ for themselves. Enter the charismatic and nefarious “Father” (Gene Jones of the very memorable “Call it, friendo” scene from No Country for Old Men), as he’s referred to in the compound; the religious leader who is responsible for the inception of the group and their creation of Eden Parish. He could be every Southern Baptist preacher I have ever known: confident, strong, endlessly quoting the Bible – most of the time spilling out of his mouth like it may be rhetoric coming from his very own grey matter; all the while he’s feeding his people energy. They love this man, they love his words, they love his Eden, they love him because he provides them something that their lives are lacking: stability. He’s a hunter, though and he’s preying on the weak. He’s preying on the weak in spirit. As soon as they stop providing nourishment, he will turn quickly and not hesitate to throw them to the side. Jones is great as the "Father".

The rest of the movie unfolds as one might expect. And if you don’t expect it then I’m sure as hell not going to ruin it for you. I personally think this is an important film. Ti West has definitely delivered another great piece of cinema. His usual cast of characters does not disappoint with their acting abilities and the bit players don’t either. Gene Jones steals the show, though. He deserves to get more work and really excels in this role especially. I had a few problems with the camera work. While 90% of the film is shot as handheld, first-person perspective, but occasionally a shot would come up where it couldn't have possibly been one of the hand-held cameras. I know, it’s a minor complaint, but I see things like that. I’d give this film a solid recommendation on the grounds that engaging, believable, infuriating and realistic depictions of religious zealotry isn't represented enough in modern American horror. The Sacrament definitely represents all of that with great performances and gut-wrenching tension.

Watch The Sacrament  now via one of the following VOD platforms for the low price of $9.99: YOUTUBE, ITUNES,  GOOGLE PLAY. As well as on most major Cable TV provider’s OnDemand section. Seriously, some people balk at paying this price, but you’re going to pay a lot more to see it in the theater while some teenager kicks the back of your seat. Hell, you could invite some friends over to save even more money and have a cult-themed viewing party. Win-win!

Matt, Signing Out