It’s really tough in this day and age to come up with new insight in to the mindset of the cult. Director Ti West manages to accomplish such a feat during the narrative of “The Sacrament” where he not only explores the facade of the utopian cult that many flock to, but the inherent mind set behind the structure of the cult. “Many people come here out of desperation,” explains character Sam, thus it’s apparent why community Eden Parish is able to thrive and live for so long without being disturbed. Even though many of the leaders of these cults are conmen, on occasion they’re also desperate individuals seeking isolation and a like minded civilization they can rule, or destroy in one fell swoop.
“The Sacrament” is another excellent horror film from director Ti West, whose exploration of the modern cult very much in the vein of Jonestown is horrifying, unsettling, and often upsetting in its ability to relentlessly portray the hive mind and mob mentality. A trio of journalists from the online magazine “The Vice” get the opportunity to film a investigative report, when journalist Patrick receives a letter from his sister Caroline that she’s left the country to join a community, leaving only a phone number with him. The phone number leads him to a source that offers to bring him to her new home, and he uses the chance to bring along fellow journalists Jake and Sam to figure out what’s happened to her. After an unsettling confrontation with armed guards, the trio are welcomed by Caroline, who introduces them in to Eden Parish, but is very anxious to sell them on the prospect of living with her among her new family.
When Sam is given a note from a child in the village begging for help, events quickly spiral out of control. Director West definitely toys with audience’s expectations for this kind of film format, eliciting a documentary narrative structure, that feels all too raw. The casting for “The Sacrament” is pitch perfect with AJ Bowen giving a fantastic turn as journalist Sam, who is very suspicious of Eden Parish from minute one and soon figures out he may not be able to go back and tell his story if he isn’t careful. There’s also the wonderful performance from Amy Seimetz who is gut wrenching as the naive Caroline whose committed herself to Eden Parish. Gene Jones, though, steals the show (with an Oscar worthy performance) as “Father,” the utterly enthusiastic and megalomaniacal leader of Eden Parish who is Jim Jones incarnate, presenting a persona that’s oddly enough slimy, but charming. He not only brings our trio of characters in to Eden Parish, but he seduces them with a village and civilization that’s happy, peaceful, and serene.
Not just that, but West seduces his audience, showing much of what the setting of Eden Parish has to offer. The most effective scene in the film is Sam’s interview with Father in the town square, which goes awry amidst Father’s manipulation and veiled threats against the filmmakers. West sets the stage for Eden Parish by transforming it in to the quintessential set piece for this kind of atmosphere, where he reasons to us why people would flock to its surroundings, and how any one of us could be sold on its simplistic lifestyle, and wholesome diverse villagers. West is relentless in his exploration of the concept of the cult, zooming in head on to the brutally vicious and disturbing finale, and offers an unflinching, often upsetting final half that drops our characters in to a fight for survival. Director West’s film is touted to horror audiences, but is also suited to folks fascinated in the entire societal anomaly of the cult, and how it can snare its victims. Though it’s a horror film first and foremost, it’s also a very volatile and relevant cautionary tale that needs to be seen.