New Splat Pack maestro Ti West wowed us back in 2009 with House of the Devil then again last year with Innkeepers. Whilst House of the Devil was a slow burning kind of 70’s hark-back, Innkeepers was very much a modern horror. His latest feature, The Sacrament, played at Toronto’s 2013 International Film Festival, but is it any good?
Unfortunately West goes for the slow burning thing again and it doesn’t pull off. Any slower and you’d be catatonic. The Sacrament is a film in the spirit of The Wicker Man but way less spooky. Two reporters venture into South America after a friend receives a summons from his estranged sister. The trio arrive to discover the sister is living in an idyllic but secluded religious convent lorded over by the mysterious ‘Father’ (Gene Jones). About half way through you’re going to start wondering what the point of the film is, because it certainly isn’t to scare or entertain. Sure there’s an interesting concept here, but when the final act kicks off you realise that this has been a one trick pony: a script formulated around its ending, and no film should merely be a means to its own end.
Step away from the lack of substance and look at it from a different angle, then you can see that there are plenty of great components at work. The set for one is fantastic, no arguments there. But where Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno managed to successfully convey hell in a South American paradise, West squanders a set on an uneventful plotline and flopped mounting tension. By this I mean that West orchestrates his characters into position, presents us with the stage, but then it doesn’t really go anywhere bar its predictable finale. Actually, there’s one sequence of particular merit that ignites interest in the long shadowy boredom of the feature.
The performance of Gene Jones (the only man to win a coin toss in No Country for Old Men) is a carrot on a stick, enticing us through the film. Like Michael parks in Red State, there’s something utterly watchable about religious zealots, and they have the followers to prove it. Jones’s interview sequence with AJ Bowen, is one of the few really great moments in the film, its more intense than most of the film, and shows how much shit the three guys are in. Jones is masterful in his execution of dangerous hospitality and manipulation, as is Amy Seimetz as religious nut Caroline.
Bar a few great performances, West disappoints here with a predictable escapade into religious mania, perhaps faulted by its positioning as a post-Red State feature. Even then it’s still dull as dishwater, void of previously flaunted visual flare, and lacking any real drive to develop its characters. When the inevitable set piece kicks off, you really won’t care who survives.
Dir: Ti West
Stars: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones