Writer: Ti West
Cast: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Kentucker Audley, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones
Running time: 99mins
The lowdown: House of the Devil and The Innkeepers director Ti West unofficially recreates the Jonestown Massacre in this mockumentary chiller. Three Vice magazine journalists venture into a Christian commune founded in a foreign jungle on the invitation of the photographer’s sister. Initially living up to its name of Eden Parish, frightening signals of what is occurring behind closed doors soon become apparent. Effective, but too familiar a cult story to be anything more than a minor addition to West’s filmography.
The full verdict: The Sacrament follows the major events of Jonestown so closely, it seems to be budgetary reasons why the filmmakers did not just make an official retelling of the tragic events cult leader Jim Jones orchestrated.
Journalists arrive (minus the real life Senator who was killed on Jones’ orders) in the encampment and see a harmonious, racially integrated, democratic Christian community.
At the centre of this is an enigmatic leader, here Father (Jones), who watches over his flock like a protective shepherd.
Then a note delivered to the journalists by one of the followers alerts them to the abuse and terror the camp is being subjected to, leading to a series of horrific events.
The Sacrament feels like director West treading water after two fantastic horror features, House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. Plus, Eli Roth on producing duties does little to elevate the feeling the film sails close to tasteless cash-in territory.
But, West is too good a filmmaker for this to be a failure. His talent for sustained dread and quiet unease before the climactic horror are put to good use, and he just about plays by the rules of found footage horror.
He is also aided by a great cast, familiar to anyone who has seen A Horrible Way to Die or You’re Next.
Bowen, Swanberg and Audley are likeable foils as the three journos, while Seimetz impresses as Audley’s ex-junky sister, fanatically devoted to her new cause.
But, the film belongs to Gene Jones as the intimidating Father, so good you believe he wasn’t just chosen because of his surname. All oily, car salesman charm and veiled threats delivered as religious homilies, Jones also employs his imposing bulk and mean-shaped mouth to create a terrifyingly authentic feeling Messianic madman.
A shame then that all involved do not attempt to try anything new with an over-familiar premise.