The Sacrament (2013)

On November 18th 1978, the religious settlement in Jonestown, Guyana was thrust in to the forefront of American culture. Led by enigmatic cult leader Jim Jones, the settlement was founded by Jones and his followers after a perceived "religious persecution" drove them from their domestic homeland. In 1976, Jones and the majority of his parish completed a mass migration that would leave the Jonestown settlement near 1000 members strong. Of course, such a mass concentration of American ex=pats was sure to catch the attention on the American government. In November of 1979 California congressman Leo Ryan visited the settlement, a visit that ended with tragic results.

When faced with an intrusion from the outside world, one that didn't blindly accept what Jones said, Jim Jones lost his fragile hold on his sanity. He ordered Ryan shot. Then he commanded his followers
to drink a mixture of Kool-Aid and cyanide (amongst other substances), which most of them did willfully. Jones himself refused to drink the drink and instead either was shot by a follower or shot himself to death in the groin. Collectively, the Jonestown Massacre resulted in 918 deaths. See, we seek to educate here at DreadWorld.

I go into depth because in order for you to understand the Ti West film The Sacrament, it's important to know the historical events that led to it's being. West essentially re-appropriates the events at Jonestown for  modern audiences. He replaces Senator Ryan with a team of Brooklyn hipster internet reporters (A.J. Bowen ad Joe Swanberg) and a man (Ken Audley) looking for his sister (Amy Seimetz) who has joined up with West's fictional version of Jim Jones, Father (Gene Jones - no relation to Jim, I think). The events on the ground at the Eden Parrish colony parallel those a t Jonestown pretty accurately. Lead reporter Bowen gets and interview with father after which Bowen is satisfied but Father becomes paranoid, much like Senator Ryan and Jim Jones. And much like the actual happenings at Jonestown, when the reporters go to leave many of the parish members want to leave as well. There is a shooting at an airstrip as the outsiders prepare to leave, and in the end Father, like Jones, demands his followers swallow a lethal concoction, taking their own lives. Father then follows Jones' way out and shoots himself.

The Sacrament follows the Jonestown storyline pretty much beat by beat for the first three quarters of the film. While it's entertaining, it certainly is way too familiar to build any sort of tension based on the unknown. It's not until Father kills himself and Bowen and Swanberg (who are both excellent) are left to find their own escape that the film feels like a narrative exercise and not some History channel re-enactment. It's a shame that it takes so long to get to this point,a nd that after that point the film is almost over because it's really where you can see Wests talent and vision as a film maker.

West has crafted a career out of slow burn type of films. House of the Devil (review HERE) struck the perfect chord between creepy build and tremendous payoff. Wests follow up The Innkeepers (review HERE) held out on the payoff a bit too long for my liking but was still a very good haunted house (or hotel) film. The Sacrament throws off the slow burn shackles a bit and moves the story along pretty quickly, at least for a West film. So it may be a little more accessable to audiences than some of his previous work.

As I mentioned above, both Bowen and Swanberg are excellent. The are joined by fellow A Horrible Way to Die (Review HERE) alumni Amy Seimetz, and if you are going to crib a cast off a film, the cast of A Horrible Way to Die is certainly one of the better films to do that with. Bowen should be a star, he is tremendous in the film, keeping us attached as our voice, the outsiders looking in. Both Swanberg and Seimetz used all too briefly and you wish they would have had a bigger roles, especially Swanberg who pops out from behind his camera at short intervals until the last reel when he becomes a real part of the story.

The Sacrament is film that unfortunately, based on it's historical subject matter feels like something we've all seen before. It would have benefited the film had it not followed Jonestown beat by beat and shook things up a little earlier than the last reel. That being said, it's certainly worth a viewing and worthy entry into Ti Wests film cannon.

*** and a half stars out of *****

As always, thanks for reading and "Enjoy every sandwich"

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