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Released in 2013
Directed by Ti West
TL;DR – The best “found footage” movie in years, Ti West takes a compelling true story and shows us the horrors in a shockingly realistic and human manner. It has it’s fair share of continuity errors and some slower sections but this film is absolutely worth a watch, especially if you’re in to movies about cults. 7/10
***REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
When a young photographer’s receives a strange letter from his missing sister, he gets a film crew together to document what she claims to be a “paradise” and sets out to rescue her. If you’re familiar with Jim Jones’ infamous death cult, then you know what you’re in for right at the get-go of this film.
Right off the bat the presentation in “The Sacrament” is outstanding. It starts with the “Vice documentary” logo which actually caused me to pause my Netflix and make sure I was watching the right movie. Vice has a long history of doing documentaries in an unconventional and outright dangerous manner, so this is a really great way to immerse the viewer in the film’s world right away.
It cuts right to the chase too – Patrick, the photographer who’s sister Caroline has been missing for weeks is in a production meeting answering questions on camera and laying out a plan to not only rescue her, but also how they will document it. We meet the camera man Jake, and Sam, the journalist and then we cut to them in a helicopter, flying over a remote jungle to the “compound” that Patrick’s sister is staying at.
Right away things don’t seem right because they are met with armed men who order them to turn their cameras off. Of course Caroline appears and tries to explain away the men with guns and she brings them in to the “camp” where there’s small cabins, a garden, a medical center and much more. It all comes off as too good to be true.
This film utilizes the “found footage” style better than anything that’s come out in the last several years. The camera is actually part of the dialogue, characters reference it all the time, and even hand it off occasionally. It feels much more natural than in other films in the style, and even better yet, there’s very minimal “shaky-cam” nausea-fest scenes.
The performances are all very well done as well, and if it wasn’t for Joe Swanberg as the camera man, I would have gone the entirety of this film without thinking “oh, I know that guy.” The cast is largeley unknown, and while Patrick and Caroline are a little unnatural at times, Gene Jones more than makes up for it – it’s not that I didn’t recognize him, but the fact that this role was MADE for him.
If you know about Jim Jones and how he convinced hundreds of people to end their own lives it should go without saying that there is some pretty gruesome scenes in this film. Once the film crew figure out what’s happening, they attempt to escape and rescue not only Caroline and Patrick(who is being convinced to stay with wild sex antics) but also a little girl who tipped them off in the first place.
The last 25 minutes of “The Sacrament” are horrifying and will have you on the edge of your seat. There are a few times where, as is typical with the found footage genre, there are cameras rolling where there shouldn’t be, wouldn’t be, or are never explained as to why, who and how. It really only happens once, and most people probably won’t notice at that point in the film.
While “The Sacrament” doesn’t really do anything new with the genre, subject matter or film style, it certainly does everything extremely well and is a solid horror/drama.