The Sacrament
dir-scr Ti West
prd Eli Roth, Molly Conners, Jacob Jaffke, Peter Phok, Christopher Woodrow
with Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Kentucker Audley, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones, Donna Biscoe, Kate Lyn Sheil, Shirley Jones Byrd, Talia Dobbins, Kate Forbes, Lashaun Clay, Dale Neal
release US 6.Jun.14, UK 8.Jun.14
13/US Magnet 1h35
The Sacrament
Welcome to paradise: Jones and Swanberg

swanberg bowen seimetz
See also:
Jonestown: The Life And Death Of Peoples Temple (2006)

london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Sacrament Framed as a documentary, this found-footage thriller draws from real events in 1978, when a cult leader moved his flock to Guyana. This film recasts the story on a much smaller scale, making it a more traditional scary movie that creeps us out without ever quite breaking the surface.

Dedicated to covering provocative stories fairly, Vice reporter Sam (Bowen) takes cameraman Jake (Swanberg) and photographer Patrick (Audley) along to visit an isolated commune where Patrick's sister Caroline (Seimetz) has moved. The residents of Eden Parish have cut off ties to their families, giving all their money to Father (Jones), who has guided them to build a paradise deep in a forest. But while interviewing parishioners and Father himself, the journalists can't help but question whether things are as wonderful as everyone insists they are. Sure enough, cracks start to show.

Filmmaker West can't be bothered to explore the motivations of these true believers; he merely assumes that anyone who would give away their life savings must be nuts, and anyone who takes it must be evil. This approach cleverly echoes the cynicism of the New York journalists, as well as the realistic documentary style. Camerawork is offhanded, and the interaction between the crew is relaxed and often darkly funny.

But of course, anyone who recognises the premise will be freaked out long before the atonal score kicks in to remind us that there's something nasty going on here. This does kind of undermine the realism, as does the fact that the cameras keep recording even after all hell breaks loose. Indeed, after the smiley insistence that they're happy with nothing to hide, a proper horror movie emerges as a mute girl (Dobbins) presents a piece of paper saying, "Please help us!" And men appear with very big guns.

Frankly, the things Father talks about are a lot more interesting than the simplistic thriller West has made. When Father talks about these people's desire to escape from poverty, violence, greed and racism, we think we might sell everything we have to do that too. And when Sam asks him why the guards have guns, Father shows his roots as a more standard movie villain: "We have to preserve and protect our home from certain government agencies."

And while this film provides some terrific jolts, and a rather exhilaratingly terrifying final act, it leaves us with nagging questions. Thankfully, there are some films about the real events at Peoples Temple that explore these things in more depth, including the 1979 documentary Deceived, the Emmy-winning 1980 TV drama Guyana Tragedy and the acclaimed 2006 documentary Jonestown.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 9.Jun.14

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