Ti West's latest lo-fi horror is inspired by the Jonestown massacre
In recent years Ti West has become one of the directors to watch in horror. He's created a succession of low budget films that have been thoughtful, intelligent genre movies. The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers and his segment in V/H/S ('Second Honeymoon') in particular proved he had a real eye for story and character. Produced by Eli Roth, The Sacrament is West's highest profile film to date.
Three journalists from Vice Media head off to Eden Parish, a remote cult-like community cut off from the rest of society, to check up on the sister of one of the group who has been living there for the last year. As journalists they also see the potential for a story in their trip and decide to make a documentary of their journey; The Sacrament is made up of this footage. When they arrive it's not quite the hippy commune they were expecting but everyone seems happy and fulfilled. Inevitably the longer they spend in Eden the more the cracks beneath the veneer of peace and love start to show.
Every cult needs an enigmatic leader and Gene Jones is perfect as Father. Captivating but slightly intimidating, he controls every conversation and event within his own private kingdom. The Sacrament is a bit slow to start as West takes his time setting up his premise and characters. While it's admirable that West never wants to repeat himself (his next film will be a western called In the Valley of Violence) The Sacrament doesn't quite live up to his previous high standard. Some of this is due to the format: West himself has said the film isn't really 'found footage' more a 'fake documentary' and while it immerses you in the township's unique world it still degenerates into shaky handheld footage for the final act.
Very much inspired by the Peoples Temple and the events at Jonestown in 1978 it tries to offer some understanding into why people might fall under the spell of a charismatic cult leader but never really gives the followers' motivation any depth. It's still an interesting film that attempts to tackle some intriguing ideas but unfortunately doesn't offer anything new.
Reviewed at Glasgow Film Festival 2014.