In general, the horror genre tends to be one of the more mixed genres in film today. For every great horror film like The Conjuring, there is a horrendous horror film like Insidious 2. The genre also has produced some rather dormant periods of quality, with the this year in particular being one of the weakest years for the genre in a long time. While Oculus was a nice surprise, both Devil’s Due and The Quiet Ones were very lackluster efforts, and do not even get me started on the latest uninspired entry in the Paranormal Activity series.
One of the directors to produce consistent success in the genre, however, is Ti West. West has been a fixture in the genre with some great independent horror films like The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. Not only that, but he also directed the best bit from V/H/S and even had a bit role in last year’s You’re Next. West’s signature as a horror director has been his ability to create an ominous mood. West brings that the signature to his latest film The Sacrament, which while far from being his best outing, is another solid entry into his filmography.
The Sacrament follows a group of journalist who travel to Eden Parish, a hidden utopia in a lot of ways for its inhabitants. Although, this community may might not be the paradise it seemed to be.
As I mentioned, West’s signature is using atmosphere to create the horror in his films. To no surprise, West brings that same signature here and it works quite well. Once the story gets under way, the slow pace does a nice job of building an uneasy mood about the culture of Eden Parish. This eeiry mood gives the audience a quality to grasp onto during some of the slower scenes in the film.
The performances also help in building that sense of mood . Gene Jones, who before this film had a bit part in No Country for Old Men, steals the show as Father, the leader of Eden Parish. Jones does a great job of showing this father figure-type as someone with a natural charm and way with words, but also showing him as this man who always may have some more devious intentions under the surface.
The rest of the cast also does a rather convincing job. After roles in Upstream Color and Silver Bullets, Amy Seimetz has shown herself to be an underrated talent. Here, Seimetz gets to relish in her part as Father’s assistant, which gives her some very weighty scenes that she nails. The crew of journalists, played by Kentucker Audley, Joe Swanberg, and AJ Bowen, all also do a solid job, as they bring a lot of realism to their individual parts.
Once the climax of The Sacrament gets under way, the film becomes one of the more chilling films I’ve seen in awhile. Unlike most horror movies that just try to shock outright with some bloody images, The Sacrament gets its audience moreso with the dramatic weight of the events going on. Some of these events in the final third had me shaking in my seat while watching, and also carried some emotional weight. This is the kind of horror film I like to see, one that challenges its viewers mentally rather than shocking them with bloody imagery.
The Sacrament also has some messages under the surface that worked quite well. In a lot of ways, The Sacrament is in an investigation of religious cults, and more importantly how off their philosophies are. Even deeper, The Sacrament shows the power that one man can have over a group of directionless people, causing them to act in ways that they never would before hand. Those themes heightened the film in a lot of ways, especially the finale.
However, The Sacrament suffers from quite a few horror genre cliches. There are still some moments where the characters make insanely illogical decisions just to enhance the fear of a scene, and there are still characters that basically have the mark of death placed on them from the start. The Sacrament in a lot of ways is also very predictable, with very few surprises coming out of the second half.
While The Sacrament’s slow pace works well throughout, the introduction in particularly feels very tacked on. The first twenty minutes or so is your basic start to a horror film. They introduce the protagonists, give them a bland backstory, and then head out to whatever scary local they’re going to visit. At this point, filmmakers should try to just exclude these scenes from these films, as they just waste time.
There are also quite a few minor flaws with the film. The found footage angle is actually used quite well, but there are still some cliches that come with that genre as well. Some scenes have illogical gaps with there being no one with a camera nearby. Also, scenes of people running for their life while holding a camera are a bit silly as always. Finally, the script has a lot of coincidences that cheapen the plot in some ways.
The Sacrament is an often times chilling horror film, which uses its slow pace to build a constant sense of dread. Not only that, but the film features some great performances, while having some well-developed thematic content.
Take a Drink: when the characters do
Take a Drink: for each horror cliche
Take a Drink: during each scary scene
Do a Shot: whenever you feel yourself shaking in the finale