Monday, 2 June 2014

The Sacrament (2013)

The Sacrament (2013)
Director: Ti West
Starring: Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg and Kate Lyn Sheil
Running Time: 95 min

Director Ti West is really hit and miss for me, some of his stuff I really like, for instance The House of the Devil and some things like The Innkeepers, I'm not so crazy about.  Anyway, when I heard that he was doing something similar to the Jonestown Massacre, I was excited because I think that this could be an interesting look at how some religious cults can manipulate their followers & how harmful they can be.  Also, Jonestown isn't a story that you read about as often anymore but is truly a low point in recent American history.

A journalist from the show Vice, Sam and his camera man, Jake agree to help fashion photographer Patrick find his lost sister, who was last seen in a drug rehabilitation center.  They discover that she has left the country and is living on a commune called Eden Parish.  Patrick contacts her and agrees to go visitor her with Sam and Jake, so they can do a story on the commune.  After being helicoptered in, they are met with guards carrying AK-47s and they want the cameras turned off.  Luckily, Jake is old hat at this and keeps the camera rolling while the are driven to the secret location of the commune.  When they arrive at the gate, things start to get hairy again but luckily, Patrick's sister, Caroline arrives and defuses the situation.  She invites them in and tells them about how great it is at Eden Parish and how wonderful, their leader, "Father" is.  Sam asks Caroline if he can interview Father and she tells him that she will see what she can do.
  Richard leaves with Caroline to get reacquainted with his sister and Sam and Jake explore the camp and interview the people.  Everyone that they interview seem really happy and it seems as though Eden Parish has been a real positive life changing experience for them and their families.  They meet back up with Richard and Caroline and she lets them know that "Father" has agreed to the interview.  She also tells them that after the interview, there will be a party and they're all invited.  Sounds good, everybody loves a commune party.
  That night, Sam interviews "Father" in a town hall environment, which seems unusual for Sam and Jake.  "Father" seems to evade questions and wraps up the interview early.  They head down to the party and Sam and Jake are thinking there might not be a story here until a mute girl gives Sam a piece of paper that says, "Help Me".  Sam & Jake only have a few hours to find out what's happening at this commune behind the closed religious doors before they're helicopter leaves and expose this cult for what it is!

  Ti West does a good job recreating "Jonestown" and choosing Gene Jones (No Country For Old Men, OZ the Great and Powerful) to play the "Father" character was an excellent decision.  Gene Jones owned this role and took the film to a whole new level of creepy.  He nailed the character and if for no other reason to see this film, it should be for his performance.  Also, I liked how West tempered his camera during some of the gory scenes, letting the audience use their imagination at times instead of just each bloody killing.  There is still a lot of violence, but so scenes aren't necessary to watch.  And I was surprised that he was able to make the P.OV. camera style work for this but it did.  It didn't leave me wondering where the cameras were and there were times when having that camera was actually made the story better.  So, that was cool.

 I'm still not sure how I feel about having Vice associated with the film because it dates the project and it seems like it's trying to be something that it's not, which is a found footage film.  The beginning of the film reminds me a bit of "Cannibal Holocaust" but the difference is Deodato tried to sell his film as real footage and even had the cast hide away for a while to make it seem real.  Here we know that this is a film, so I don't think it's that necessary to make it seem like it's more real than it really is.  Also, I know how West works and that this was going to be a slow burn, so I wasn't expecting anything crazy until the end. I was really surprised though that Father's group was such a fragile house of cards and that these 3 guys could make it collapse so quickly. I thought that "Father" was going to say that they were already being investigated or they had some child porngraphy/child marriage thing going on like the Mormon scandals a few years ago, but nope. They are just mean to people and won't let so people leave. Really? Parts od the ending did piss me off a bit, with the helicopter pilot being shot but he was still willing to wait the extra hour for them to escape and then they get their deus ex machina because one of the guards lets them go. Why them? Why not the kid and the mom? Why couldn't the government find the tapes and that's where the story is told?  I think West is a better story teller than this and I find it frustrating that a few simple changes, like the background of the camera man to ex air force, so he can fly the helicopter,  a mention about government interventions, so there is some kind of tension about outsiders or even a guard stepping in earlier during so abuse of a commune person, so that when he lets them go, it makes sense.  Simple things like this, could have made the climax a lot more believable and real.

  This is a really enjoyable film, even though I have some minor issues with the ending, and I think this is probably West's best work since The House of the Devil.  This may not have any zombies or vampires but it has something far scarier, people.  People who will do anything for what they believe in and to protect what is theirs and sometimes that can be just as terrifying.

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