Tuesday, May 27, 2014

'The Sacrament' Takes Eerie Look Inside Cult

Gene Jones, AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg in THE SACRAMENT, 
a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

By Darlene Donloe

The Sacrament has the distinction of being one of the most disturbing films of the year.

Filmed as a straightforward documentary done using a guerrilla filmmaking technique, it’s eerie and frighteningly real.  Not quite sure if that’s good or bad, but, the fact that it was shot as a documentary lends authenticity to the project. Many times throughout the film, the filmmakers within the film look into the camera to plead their case.  Other times they hold the camera as they pan an audience or walk. The jumpiness and constant shaky camera affect left this reviewer nauseous, much like the 1999 groundbreaking, The Blair Witch Project.

This film is not as scary as The Blair Witch Project, but it leaves the viewer uncomfortable and wondering just what they can expect in the next frame.  You simply can’t take your eyes off of the screen.

Religious fanaticism, insecurity, familial love, finding the truth, and trying to find one’s purpose in life are what give this film its edge. It seems everyone is looking for purpose. When someone finds it in someone who, themselves, are subject to questionable practices, the film shows how quickly things can go from bad to worse. 

Amy Seimetz in THE SACRAMENT, a Magnet Release. 
Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing. 

The Sacrament, which opens June 6, could be placed in the horror film genre as it follows two journalists as they set out to document their friend's journey to find his missing sister. The friend finally tracks down his sister at a place called "Eden Parish," a self-sustained utopia. At the center of this small, religious, socialist community is a mysterious leader known only as "Father" (Gene Jones).  As their friend reunites with his sister, it becomes apparent to the newcomers that this paradise has some problems.  It’s not what it seems. What began as just another documentary shoot soon becomes a race to escape with their lives.

This simple story becomes a compelling story.  Labeling it a horror film does the film an injustice. It's also a very unpredictable and pertinent cautionary tale.

The story, of course, is inspired by the true story of Jim Jones, his followers and Jonestown.

James Warren "Jim" Jones was an American religious leader, communist and community organizer. But, he was best known for being the founder and the leader of the Peoples Temple and even better known for the mass suicide in November 1978 of 909 of the Temple’s members in Jonestown, Guyana, and the murder of five individuals at a nearby airstrip, including Congressman Leo Ryan.

More than 300 children were murdered at Jonestown, almost all of them by cyanide poisoning.

AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg in THE SACRAMENT, a Magnet Release. 
Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

A number of children also die in The Sacrament. This is a hard film to watch for various reasons, all of which can’t be divulged without providing a spoiler alert.

Ti West, director of THE SACRAMENT, a Magnet Release. 
Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing. 

Director Ti West said his goal, “was to create an elevated genre film that examines the last days in the life of a religious cult. It is rare to find films like these that are more than just cheap thrills aimed at the lowest common denominator. It was important to me not to portray these characters as mindless, psychotic cult members, but as relatable real people who, for many reasons, chose an alternative, and controversial path for their lives. I hope to have created a film that is both scary and socially relevant, one that provokes an audience to think deeply about its content.”

Goal achieved!!
There are good performances in this film. All of the actors provide a sense of realism. Gene Jones (No Country For Old Men, Boardwalk Empire) is exceptional as ‘Father.’

The Sacrament is written and directed by Ti West (The House of the Devil) and stars Amy Seimetz, AJ Bowen, Gene Jones, Joe Swanberg and Kentucker Audley.

The Sacrament, (Magnolia) is 1 hr. 40 min.  It's Rated R: for disturbing violent content including bloody images, language and brief drug use.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (OK) and E (excellent), The Sacrament gets an O (OK).

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