Ti West’s masterfully crafted ‘The Sacrament’ is filled with creeping dread
Fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) tells his friends/colleagues Sam (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg), correspondents for media giant Vice, about the strange letter he receives from his estranged sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) and it sets in motion events that will change the lives of all of them. The trio decide her story, and the story of the “sober commune” she is living at, would be a great subject for a documentary. Patrick reunites with his serene, former wild child, sister while Sam and Jake investigate why members of the isolated community have followed their mysterious leader known simply as “Father” off American soil. Extremely skeptical at first, the guys slowly come around to the at least respect group’s utopian claims, until the cracks below the surface reveal a different picture all together.
As we have come to expect from Ti West, The Sacrament starts off with a fiercely methodical pace, building his characters and setting before adding in the many layers of creeping dread. The film kicks into gear, and does not let up until the end, with the first introduction of Father (a brilliantly menacing Gene Jones). Jones dominates the screen from the first second he appears, His Father is consciously measuring every twitch and calculating every body movement as the answers he gives and speeches he delivers are all meant to dissuade any truth while enamoring himself to his flock. The interview between the journalist and Father, which occurs live in front of the whole commune, is just another exercise of control and power for Father as he keeps his entire flock in the palm of his hand. The script and dialogue are extremely well written with Father’s double talk and rhetoric, making the insane actions of the third act feel believable. Director West uses a documentary/guerilla news style of presentation, very similar to the real Vice, to lend the film a gritty sense of authenticity, the set design and framing of the story add more layers as the influence of the real Jonestown massacre is everywhere in the fictional Eden Parrish. The cast’s main trio features the who’s who of indie filmmaking right now with Bowen, Swanberg and Seimetz, some of the most recognizable members of the indie scene right now. All three are fantastic here, the acting is one of the film’s strongest points, but it’s Jones’ Father that drives the film and is likely to go down as one of cinema’s best villains of the year. Every time Jones is on screen he demands the audience’s attention, it’s a testament to the strength of the others that they are not swallowed whole by his tour de force performance.
West proves yet again to be a master of suspense building and delivers his most effective film yet, which is saying something after the genius of his last film The Innkeepers. Driven by great acting, setting and script, The Sacrament is the type of film that stays with you for days after you watch it. Till Next Time
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