Back in August, I had the good fortune to catch AJ Bowen during some down time and we got together and had a nice chat over coffee a few days before the release of his last project You’re Next. Over the past year, whenever in his presence, he has spoken to me about a a very challenging project he had been involved with that is something he was the most excited and proud of. Ti West’s newest film, The Sacrament is that film and I had the fortunate chance to be in attendance for its final screening at AFI Fest last week.
Much like West’s previous works The Innkeepers and House Of The Devil, The Sacrament features a a slow burn set up that delivers great character development and story only to build into an unnerving and chaotic crescendo. The story follows three Vice journalists who travel to an undisclosed location to track down and rescue the photographer’s sister from what turns out to be a strange sort of hippie commune. Then again, they’re all pretty strange aren’t they?
Upon their arrival, Sam (AJ Bowen), Jake (Joe Swanberg) and Patrick (Kentucker Audley) get into an altercation of sorts with some heavily armed security guards. It’s during this altercation that they learn Caroline (Amy Seimetz) doesn’t need any sort of help whatsoever. So, as any logical group of investigative journalists would do, they decide to document the goings on at Eden Parish as part of their trip. Once the commune leader known as “The Father” shows up and agrees to an interview with Sam, things turn from oddly peaceful to really awful. And once things get set in motion, hang on!
Let me be clear by saying The Sacrament is probably the most jarring and brilliant movie Ti West has brought to the masses thus far. This film may still count as a “slow burn” but the subject matter and execution left me on the edge of my seat through the majority of the film. It may also be worth noting that I’m familiar with the tragic event this film is inspired by and that story still haunts me from the first time I learned of it when I was a child.
What helps in the story’s execution is strong performances by AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg and Amy Seimetz. Bowen shed some light on his character to me as I thought he was basing it off of Vice’s own Shane Smith. He told me he created the character of Sam in three parts to fit with the changes in the story. I’ll be honest here and say within the first 20 minutes, I stopped seeing AJ altogether and only saw Sam. But the real stand out here is Gene Jones who plays “Father” with wicked brilliance.
So, we have a great story and strong performances and those two aspects are brought together in a clever found footage style. Since this movie is told through the guise of immersion journalism, the concept of it being shown as a documentary makes complete sense and breathes some new life in the quite tiresome found footage genre. The last piece to the puzzle is the score by Tyler Bates. A fantastic film composer, the challenge of scoring a faux documentary heightens his talent and offers a fitting body of music to the slow build to insanity that the movie provides.
After leaving the theater, the movie stayed with me for much longer than I expected. With a great story, sharp directing and strong performances all around, The Sacrament is a jarring kick to the gut. Inspired by real life events, this is not your typical horror film. However, Ti West delivers a story that is a level up from his previous films. Just go into the movie with your patience in tact. The payoffs are well deserved and this leads me to the conclusion that The Sacrament is West’s darkest, most violent and smartest movie to date.