Starring AJ Bowen, Joe Swanburg, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones
Written by Ti West
Directed by Ti West
Two internet reporters and a photographer travel to a reclusive religious commune in this film largely inspired by the real life Jonsetown Massacre.
So when I say ‘largely inspired by’, I actually mean that this film is a modern day retelling of the late ’70’s tragedy. Yes, they change up some of the facts and the time frame, transporting the film to modern day, but the film is a play by play of the tragic events that actually transpired. While I am no historian or scholar on the actual Jonestown Massacre, I have more than a passing knowledge. Thank you, History Channel. When all that is said and done, this film is actually quite disturbing, especially if you know a little bit about the actual events that transpired. For reference, I send you here.
A photographer gets a letter from his sister saying that she wants him to come visit her in Eden Parish, a reclusive religious community. The photographer seeks out two internet reporters who join him on his trip to Eden Parish. Once their, they discover a group of people seemingly living in peace and living off the land. After interviewing The Father (Gene Jones), the leader of this commune, they start to get a strange vibe. Then, a little girl hands them a letter that simply says ‘Help us’. Next thing you know, the parishioners are drinking cyanide laced Kool-Aid and people are dying left and right.
I suppose I should have thrown a spoiler warning up above, but, honestly, if you know anything about Jonestown, you know where this film is going. And it goes there. It’s just not as shocking as the real events that clearly inspired it. In this film there are only 60 or so people. In real life, it was 900 and change. Of course, watching mothers feed their babies cyanide laced Kool-Aid with droppers is stomach churning; far more so than anything in torture porn films.
This film is classified as a horror film, and some of the scenes are horrifying, I found it more of a dramatic docu-drama. This is not a typical horror film where you are going to get a masked killer running out of the South American jungle with a machete or sharpened banana branch stabbing peaceful former addicts. The only thing actually terrifying about this film, other than the babies, is that a majority of this film actually happened.
Ti West has been heralded as a new master of modern horror. His films have managed to amass a cult following, especially among internet horror writers. I have yet to see why. This is the second of his films I have watched. I was not impressed by The Innkeepers (read my review here). I have yet to watch The House of the Devil. I was not terribly impressed by The Sacrament. I did enjoy this film quite a bit more than The Innkeepers, though, so perhaps he is getting better. One thing I can appreciate about his films is that he has yet to repeat himself. While The Innkeepers was a slow burn haunted hotel film, this is a slow burn cult mass suicide film. I have to admit, he does like his slow burn, and that can be effective. It was certainly more effective here, as my tension was almost palpable. I knew where the film was going. I dreaded it. By the time the film was finished, my shoulders and neck were sore from my muscles tightening as I anticipated what was to come.
I do have to call out Gene Jones, the actor who plays Father. His performance is simply staggering. While you may not recognize him immediately, he was the gas station attendant in No Country For Old Men. He is simply amazing in this film and, if there was any justice in this world, would get an Academy Award for his performance. He will not get it though, as this is classified as a horror film and will never be recognized by the more ‘upscale’ film makers. Let’s hope the Saturn Awards have taken notice.
While The Sacrament was a step up from Ti West’s previous film, I still found it hard to actually enjoy. After some contemplation, I feel that my enjoyment level was in relation to the actual incident that occurred. This film was too close to actual events for comfort. Jonestown was a terrible tragedy. I feel that this film is exploiting the situation. This is not to say that it is not a good film. It is well made, with powerful performances. It is just too close for comfort. There is not that separation that is necessary for a horror film to be enjoyable.
**1/2 out of ****
*NOTE: The following is a Red Band trailer for the film. Other than a little bit of blood, it is safe for work.
BIZZAM!! Funt Facts!
- Domestic gross of $9,221. on an unknown production budget. Yes, less than $10,000. Obviously, it was severely limited release, probably one theater.
- Two retired members of The Harlem Globetrotters play background characters.
- The film is clearly based off the real tragedy that occurred in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978.