If there’s one name in the horror business that you can count on to deliver consistent scares, it’s Ti West. The 34-year-old director has proven that he knows how to make the genre work with his incredibly effective and frightening films The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. His movies are slow-burns, spending a great deal of time establishing atmosphere and characters before descending into all out horror. While some may criticize his films for being too slow, I believe that they are intentionally paced this way to ratchet up the suspense and the dread. His latest film, The Sacrament, is another slow-burn, but West once again proves that he can make this work. It’s a truly unsettling and disturbing picture and while it may not be West’s best effort, it’s certainly one of the year’s best horror films.

Sam (AJ Bowen) is a reporter working for Vice Media who creates news stories with his cameraman, Jake (Joe Swanberg). When their friend and correspondent Patrick (Kentucker Audley) receives a letter from his sister (Amy Seimetz) inviting him to a religious commune, Sam and Jake decide to tag along and document the mysterious community. Upon their arrival, they begin to realize that the community may not be as peaceful as it initially seemed; the gates are guarded by armed men who become hostile when Sam and Jake try to enter the commune known as “Eden Parish”. But once they’re inside, Patrick’s sister and the other locals become very friendly, attributing the community’s success to their leader, a mysterious figure known simply as Father (Gene Jones). But as they continue documenting and asking questions, the members of “Eden Parish” grow increasingly nastier and these three outsiders begin to question whether they will be allowed to leave the commune and return home.

Clearly taking inspiration from the Jonestown Massacre of 1978, The Sacrament is never outright terrifying, but it is increasingly discomforting throughout. West does an excellent job of taking the initially creepy commune and turning it into something that feels warm and welcoming, before pulling the rug out from underneath us and exposing the true evil at the heart of this place. Things do seem to go south far too quickly and perhaps extending this segment a bit would have made it feel less rushed. Still, even when things threaten to descend into horror clichés, the documentary-like aspect helps events feel real and urgent. The film really does feel like a documentary, and an extended interview with Father is one of the highlights of the film. The only downside to this is that some of the editing doesn’t make sense in the context of the film. The majority of the footage is supposed to have been shot with one camera, but certain scenes incorporate cuts that would not have been possible without at least two. It’s distracting at first, but it’s almost entirely forgotten about when events in the film start picking up.

There’s something inherently frightening about a horror film that could actually happen and many of the events that take place at the fictional “Eden Parish” actually did happen. West doesn’t use the tragedy to achieve unwarranted jump scares, but lets the story and the events do the scaring for him. Even though the violence may become a little unnecessary in the film’s third act, it’s difficult to shake some of the truly disturbing images that the director conjures up. The Sacrament may not be West’s best film (that honor still belongs to The House of the Devil), but it is another great entry into his filmography. It proves that sometimes the scariest thing isn’t a ghost, ghoul or goblin, but a man and his ideas.

The Sacrament receives 3/4

Advertisements