I know, I know. Who has two thumbs and is a glutton for punishment? This guy. I’ve been doing reviews for Shock for a little over a year now and in that time I’ve covered at least a dozen found footage flicks. And every time I’ve come away under impressed and wanting more. Yet time after time I gladly accept the opportunity to write the review. You know why?
Ti West’s The Sacrament is why.
Patrick is a cameraman for Vice magazine and along with his fellow workers Jake (Joe Swanberg, You’re Next) and Sam (AJ Bowen, The House of the Devil), he is flying to Eden Parish, a commune that has helped his sister rehabilitate from a drug addiction. When they get there, everything seems copacetic and cheerful, but things tense up when they finally sit down for an interview with the leader of the commune, The Father (Gene Jones.) After pulling the curtain back on the overly peaceful community, things spiral into a tense and violent display of raw human violence.
If you don’t follow Ti West, you need to. The man is on the forefront of good horror in the last half decade, directing The House of the Devil and a segment in V/H/S and the excellent The Innkeepers. In the formerly mentioned movies he created a '70s throwback, a creepy auteur slasher and a truly scary ghost story. Now he tackles found footage [editor's note: West will deny it's a found footage film.] and he handles it with finesse. He follows the same model of other sub-genre flicks, but cleverly explains why the camera never stops rolling, why there is such high sound quality and why all the people just happen to be perfectly lit the entire time. The tension created is high by never rushing the story and allowing the characters to flesh out and give the viewer a real feel of how the commune operates.
Once the shit hits the fan, it explodes. Things go crazy real fast and the movie veers into a territory handled in films such as The Last House on the Left and Red State, essentially a category that turns man into a monster. It wracks one's nerves and leaves you teetering between staring and looking away. Now, this wouldn’t work so well if it weren’t for the outstanding acting from Swanberg, Bowen, and the terrifyingly convincing Gene Jones. Bowen and Swanberg (horror stars as well) manage to hold on to your attention the whole movie by being not only likeable but also believable. So often in horror movies, people react in ways that are so backwards to reality, but these two manage to play it straight the whole movie. And when it comes to Gene Jones, he is one crazy charismatic sonuvabitch. There is a reason that his image is half of the movie poster.
While the movie does seem to drag, it seems necessary to completely set the mood. As a team, the cast and crew of The Sacrament create a found footage movie that never uses that label as a crutch. It’s secondary. First and foremost it is a horror movie that showcases the pure brutality of humankind. It’s a solid and effective flick and a shining example of why sometimes it’s worth digging through the trash to find the gold.