Taking a cue from films such as The Blair Witch Project and Cannibal Holocaust, Ti West’s latest project, The Sacrament, uses docu-style in order to blur the lines between fact and fiction. West, who has showcased his skills in horror with 2009’s The House of the Devil and 2011’s The Innkeeper, has been praised in the past for his refreshing take on the genre using classic ‘70s horror influences in contemporary stories. The Sacrament premiered at Venice Film Festival yesterday (9/2), and while there was no shortage of enthusiasm for the promising filmmaker’s efforts in changing up the typical found footage flick, recent reviews indicate that the audience was ultimately left wanting.
The story (written by West) begins as a travelogue for Vice Magazine following fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) as he searches for his estranged, recovering drug-addict, sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) with documentarian Sam (AJ Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg). The film is somewhat of a reunion for a few members of the cast and the director who have overlapped on a few projects. Audley and Swanberg had previously worked with West on 2012’s horror collaboration film V/H/S, while Seimetz (who can be seen in Upstream Color, which premiered at Sundance this year) was featured in You’re Next alongside Swanberg and Bowen.
Patrick, Sam, and Jake find Caroline in a seemingly peaceful commune in a remote location called Eden Parish. They soon discover, however, that the commune is a cult that is preparing for mass suicide led by the “sinister” Father. Oliver Lyttelton of Indiewire expresses his mixed feelings on the film saying, “It’s refreshing to see a found footage film deal with this kind of grounded subject matter and doubly so that the film’s climax takes place entirely in the daytime. And yet it doesn’t quite work, not because it’s set in the light, but because the climax ends up being ultimately what you probably guessed it was early on…There’s not much left in the way of tension or surprises and it can’t do anything except feel like a huge anticlimax.” A similar sentiment is offered by Damon Wise in a report from Empire stating that “when the story kicks in, it all feels rather familiar” and adding, “aficionados on crackpot American behaviour will be better served by the superb 2006 doc Jonestown.” That being said, there were some shining aspects about the film including the tension in the early scenes which Lyttleton describes as “beautifully ramped up” and the way “the camera elegantly sets up the geography of the commune.”
The Sacrament is West’s first crack at the mainstream and his previous works earned him the backing of Eli Roth, Worldview Entertainment, and IM Global for this new movie. Roth compared the film to The Last Exorcism in a report from Variety. In that same report, West discussed his vision for the project as aiming for “something more grounded in realism. Something confrontational. The approach is much grittier, more dramatic and emotional.” From what’s being said in the reviews it would seem that the stylistic choices West made helped create an ambiance that coheres with his original idea, even if the film itself fell a bit flat.