Combustible Celluloid
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With: Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones, Kentucker Audley, Kate Lyn Sheil
Written by: Ti West
Directed by: Ti West
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content including bloody images, language and brief drug use
Running Time: 95
Date: 06/07/2014

The Sacrament (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Preacher of Darkness

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After writer/director Ti West's two great horror movies, The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, his oddly conventional The Sacrament is something of a letdown.

It begins with the use of the old "found footage" device, which is not only stale and inconsistent, but also fails to make room for the beautiful, tense compositions West employed in his earlier films. Secondly, the entire idea is simply borrowed from the real-life "Jonestown Massacre" of 1978, leaving little in the way of surprise.

Fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) receives a mysterious letter from his sister (Amy Seimetz), who has struggled with alcoholism and gone to live in a religious retreat. Accompanied by radical reporter Sam (AJ Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg), Patrick travels to Eden Parish, where converts grow food, work together and take care of each other, under the kindly command of "Father" (Gene Jones).

But just as things are beginning to look decent, the crew receives a cry of help from a young girl; many of the residents are there against their wills. As a general uproar begins, "Father" decides to put into effect his deadly, last-ditch backup plan. Can the intrepid journalists stop it?

Yet West is such an inventive, powerful filmmaker that he manages to establish some interesting spaces, even with the clunky hand-held camerawork. The blocky cabins, the space between, a pavilion, and darkness, all come into play. Moreover, he gets a great performance from Gene Jones as the avuncular, yet slippery "Father," giving an interview with sunglasses on and addressing many of his answers to his followers, and not to his questioner. It's a moment that's so seductive it's genuinely spooky.

The Blu-ray release, from Magnet, highlights the exterior brightness of the material, although the hand-held, "found footage" style does not really require high-def. The disc includes a low-key commentary track by Ti West, and actors AJ Bowen and Amy Seimetz, plus four fairly typical, short behind-the-scenes featurettes (tainted by the appearance of the supremely annoying Eli Roth, who produced and "presents" this movie), and trailers for this and other Magnet releases.

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