People often try to convey a particular image to the world, based on how they want to live their lives and be perceived by their peers. But when they find a revelation within themselves that is entirely unexpected, the results can either be humbling and beneficial or devastatingly tragic. Those conflicting outcomes are both captivatingly presented in writer-director Ti West’s new independent horror thriller, ‘The Sacrament,’ which united him with the horror master producer, Eli Roth. The realistic and socially unnerving movie, which is a compelling departure from the supernatural genre the filmmaker has made a name for himself in, powerfully explores the transformation of a damaged woman who has grown dependent on unconventional relationships to regain her confidence.
‘The Sacrament’ follows two Vice Media correspondents, investigative reporter Sam (AJ Bowen) and videographer Jake (Joe Swanberg), who regularly travel to war-torn countries in search of stories with real societal implications. The two journalists think they’ve uncovered their next big story while socially talking to their friend, Patrick (Kentucker Audley). The New York fashion photographer is concerned about his sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz), who has checked into a Mississippi sober-living community after years of struggling with drug addiction. But Patrick and their parents have grown concerned about her safety when he receives a letter from Caroline, asking him to visit her.
When the trio decides to take on the case and call the number Caroline sent her brother, a man notifies them that the community has moved to an undisclosed location in South America. He gives them information on how they can fly in to visit Caroline. Sam and Jake decide to join Patrick and make a documentary on the journey to the self-sustained rural utopia Caroline has moved to, Eden Parish.
While the three initially expect to film a heartwarming reunion between the brother and sister, they immediately discover Eden Parish is a sustaining Christian socialist community that’s blocked by armed guards. The community is led by a mysterious leader who’s known only as “Father” (Gene Jones). As Patrick reunites with his sister, it becomes apparent to the three men that Eden Parish isn’t as peaceful as Caroline described it, and they’re left to fight to escape with their lives.
West has made a name for himself writing and directing such horror thrillers as ‘The House of the Devil’ and ‘The Innkeepers’ that are emotionally harrowing throwbacks to genre films made popular in the 1970s. But with ‘The Sacrament,’ the filmmaker smartly and creatively scripted and helmed a tantalizing contemporized story of the evils of modern society that details how people’s pre-conceived notions of how others live can ultimately be destructive for everyone.
Patrick, Sam and Jake visited Eden’s Parish with the intent on saving Caroline from herself and the new society she has joined, but their failed attempts to drive her from her seemingly newfound happiness prove that contentment is subjective. Many viewers who have thrived in a capitalist society like America will undoubtedly and naturally understand and relate to the three men’s criticism over the way Caroline’s new community is being run.
However, Seimetz’s vibrant and purist portrayal of the seemingly reformed addict will show that not everyone’s definition of happiness is similar. The actress’ enticing, personal performance emphasized West’s goal of not showing the community as mindless cult members, but instead as relatable real people who, for various reasons, chose an alternative way to live their lives. Caroline’s continued resentment toward her brother and his friends’ desire to save her as they deemed necessary is a socially relevant issue that drives audience to think deeply about how far they’d be willing to go to defend their beliefs.
While the found footage subgenre has begun to unoriginally and unnecessarily saturate the film market in recent years, West’s decision to showcase some of Patrick, Sam and Jake’s interactions and interviews with the Eden Parish community through their cameras in ‘The Sacrament’ creatively benefited its story. Since Vice is a real media company that makes some of the most cutting edge journalism stories around the world, the horror thriller’s utilization of their techniques, with the help of cinematographer Eric Robbins, makes the three men’s exploration of the community and its inhabitants feel more realistic and enticing.
The found footage element was not only imperative in chronicling the three friends’ fight for survival, but also helped showcase the stunning production design that was created by Jade Healy. While West only had 18 days to film ‘The Sacrament’ in Savannah, Georgia, the designer still masterfully created an elaborate set that stood in for Eden Parish, from the simple yet sturdy cabins the residents lived in to the modest dining and sitting area where Father would often preach to the community. Healy truly created an authentic environment that plausibly passed as a rural, self-sustained community.
While West has made a name for himself as a skilled writer and director in the supernatural subgenre with ‘The House of the Devil’ and ‘The Innkeepers,’ and has also experimented with gore with his segments in the anthology films, ‘The ABCs of Death’ and ‘V/H/S,’ the filmmaker showed a versatile and captivating side of his work with ‘The Sacrament.’ The indie horror thriller creatively and cunningly examined the damaging physical and psychological trauma that can arise when people are quick to judge the lifestyles of other societies. With the helmer providing a strong opposition to the happiness Caroline was ineffectively trying to convey to her brother and his friends, in conjunction with the clever cinematography from Robbins and realistic production design from Healy, ‘The Sacrament’ is a powerful exploration of people’s preconceived notions on how life should be lived.