Sunday, May 26, 2024


Film: The Sacrament
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla on Fire!

I am not a believer in the supernatural and I am not merely irreligious but antireligious. While I don’t address every film I watch from the perspective of antitheism, there are times when it becomes relevant. The Sacrament is one of those times. This is a film that very clearly wants the audience to think of instances like Jonestown in Guyana and the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas. The connection is obvious, but this doesn’t in any way detract from the story. It’s very clear where this is going to go, and once it starts, there’s no getting off that rollercoaster.

Fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) gets a letter from his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz), a recovering addict. Caroline is now living in Eden Parish, a religious community completely off the grid in an unknown location accessible only by helicopter. Patrick takes this information to his coworkers at Vice, reporter Sam (A.J. Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg). The group agrees that there might be a story in this, and all three head down to the commune to see what is happening.

Things are tense initially due to the presence of high-powered weaponry in the hands of men guarding the compound. The helicopter takes off, with the pilot (Christian Ojore Mayfield) telling them that he will return at 8AM the following day, wait an hour and leave without them if they don’t show back up.

What we’re going to see in the compound is essentially what you are going to expect going into this. The people, and there are about a dozen dozen of them, appear to be happy, working in unison, and building their own society. A little investigation reveals that much of the compound was funded by the members selling their homes and possessions. Caroline seems happy as well and extols the virtues of the Father (Gene Jones), the man who started the group.

That night, Sam is allowed to interview the Father, but only at a mass meeting in front of the entire commune. Some of his answers are evasive and all of them have a religious and messianic bent to them. After the meeting, both Sam and Jake seem to be both disturbed by what they have seen, but somehow reassured by the happiness of the people that they see and the impressiveness of what they have built. That is until they are approached by Savannah (Talia Dobbins), a mute child. Savannah hands Sam a note asking for help, and Sam and Jake discover that there is a group of people in the commune who are reporting terrible abuse and a desire to leave.

And then, the next morning, things go badly very quickly. Sam and Jake awaken to what appears to be terrible turmoil in the group and serious concern that they haven’t seen Patrick since their arrival.

On the surface, the biggest issue with The Sacrament is that the ending is inevitable. There’s no place for this story to go except for precisely where it goes; without a sudden appearance of a supernatural element, there can only be one destination for this freight train. The fact that we don’t dip into the supernatural is one of the strengths of the story; it keeps this far more real and believable. For all of the inevitability of what is going to happen, though, the last part of the film is still surprisingly effective. We know what the destination is going to be; the details of getting there are what makes this work.

The problem with the film is one that is much more on the filmmaking perspective. On the surface, The Sacrament is a found-footage movie, and most of it is filmed in this style. Not all of it is, though. There are large sections of this that are filmed as a traditional film, and since this is supposed to be a record of what happened at Eden Parish, this comes across as far less authentic than it should.

If you can get over that fact, though, The Sacrament has a great deal to recommend it. The story is one that doesn’t try to surprise the audience or even really shock them (although there are a few shocking moments), but to show the inevitability of this kind of cult mindset. There is no place for this story to go because there is no place for this to go in reality. The story is one that we’ve seen happen several times in the real world, and that more than anything is why the direction is an obvious one.

The Sacrament is tense and the right kind of upsetting. Pair this with Red State or Green Room.

Why to watch The Sacrament: Religion kills.
Why not to watch: Some of it is found footage and some isn’t. Pick a style!

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