Review: The Sacrament (2014) a modern day retelling of Jonestown by horror masters Ti West and Eli Roth

May 11, 2014


THE SACRAMENT (2014) Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Gene Jones, Kate Lyn Sheil, Kentucker Audley. Directed by Ti West

I had mixed feelings about the new film from writer/director Ti West (The House Of The Devil, The Innkeepers) and producer Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever). What bothered me was that it too closely resembled the 1978 Jonestown Massacre and maybe if there would have been a disclaimer like "inspired by" I would have been okay with it, but I held back my review until I screened it a second time and now my feelings have changed. I'm sure some people that view this film will be too young to remember Reverend Jim Jones and so the story will seem fresh to them, but to those that are familiar with the Guyana tragedy the close similarities may be too much of a distraction.

When fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) gets a letter from his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz), a former drug addict who was getting help at a Mississippi sober commune, inviting him to visit her at a religious community overseas called Eden Parish, he brings along two friends from VICE media, Sam Turner (AJ Bowen) and cameraman Jake Williams (Joe Swanberg), to document the trip and do a story about the community. The three arrive via helicopter at an undisclosed location where they are picked up and escorted to the compound by rifle toting members of the religious sect. Caroline meets them at the gate and escorts them inside the compound where she sets up Sam and Jake with a cabin and then whisks away her brother to spend some time catching up. The duo are giving free reign and then go around interviewing different residents of Eden Parish, all them expressing how the groups leader known as "Father" took them in and gave them a home, of course they all sold their possessions and donated the money to the church run by Father. After requesting an interview with the groups leader, Sam is given the green light but informed that the interview will take place in front of the entire congregation. While they are setting up the cameras Father arrives met with the kind of applause and cheering a rock star gets when he hits the stage. Gene Jones is fantastic as Father and his speech during the interview is one of the highlights of the film. He comes off as charismatic and truly caring making it believable for these people to follow him. You may remember Jones for the small scene he had with Javier Bardem in "No Country For Old Men", he was the gas station proprietor in the memorable coin toss scene. Everything seems to good to be true and it is as the dark side of the Parish is soon exposed.

Along with Gene Jones performance there are many things I like about this film. The acting is pretty solid from the entire cast especially AJ Bowen as Sam and Amy Seimetz as Caroline. It's a "found footage" type movie but the camera work is not grainy, shaky and no CGI effects, a welcomed pleasure, the film looks good. Also the score by Tyler Bates and the gospel performance in the movie are both really good. The first three quarters of the film are the setup for the big finale and sharp editing by Ti West helps keep the audience engaged. As for the similarities between this film and the Jonestown Massacre of 78, there are many, charismatic cult leader committed to civil rights, drug addict, a majority of African-American followers, the Kool-Aid scene, etc,. but in an interview Ti West said he considered "The Sacrament" a modern day retelling of Jonestown and that makes perfect sense. I have a feeling that if most people knew that going in it would help avoid any resentment and work in favor of the film. A Ti West film is very reminiscent of those great horror movies of the 70s and 80s and that's why they are so good and with "The Sacrament" West uses a real life incident that took place in the 70s to base his work on, and if your familiar with the Jonestown tragedy just think of this film as new version of that story.

(3 stars)

*opens June 6th in limited release, available now on VOD.