The mass suicide of Reverend Jim Jones and his Jonestown cult must seem
fantastical, like something straight out of a horror movie to those too young to
have any memory of the story.
So that’s what director Ti West (“The Innkeepers”) turns it into with “The
Sacrament,” a modernized/fictionalized account of a charismatic preacher and the
people who follow him to a new way of life in some remote corner of an unnamed
Caribbean basin state.
It’s a found footage approach to this story. A trio of outsiders, two of them
with cameras, visit and by their mere act of visitation, threaten to cause this
“paradise” to unravel.
Patrick (Kentucker Audley) is a fashion photographer who has gotten this odd
letter from his junkie sister. She’s cleaned up and “found” herself, thanks to
this community she’s joined. He should come visit.
Even though that community has now moved to an undisclosed location reachable
only by a mysterious, secretive helicopter pilot, Jake agrees. And since he has
ties this this “New Age” “immersionism” journalism enterprise called Vice, he’ll
bring along skeptical reporter Sam (AJ (“You’re Next” Bowen) and photographer
Jake (“Drinking Buddies” actor-director Joe Swanberg). There just might be a
story in all this.
hey discover an interracial village where the old and the young live
together “free, as God intended” according to a voice on the public address
system. Artists and hood rats, the abandoned elderly and small children have
carved a community out of the wilderness and found hope in their lives.</P>
<P>They owe it all to “Father,” a folksy-homespun old man, the voice on that PA
system, played by Gene Jones, who was a convenience store owner in “No Country
for Old Men.” Father rails, ever-so-gently, about racism, poverty and
imperialism. And he gives the “Outsiders” the hard sell.
“We can live our lives” here, he drawls, disarmingly. “TRULY live.”
Patrick spends all his time with sister Carolina (Amy Seimetz, also in
“You’re Next”) and seems to be kind of won over. Jake is just photographing
folks, and Sam, a bit put on his guard by the sometimes fearful members of the
cult, accepts what he’s being told, if not quite at face value.
And then they’re handed a note.
“Please help us.”
West is plainly relying on an audience with no knowledge of Jonestown or what
happened there, because for all his efforts to pointlessly update this story and
fictionalize it, those efforts don’t cover his tracks. He even has Gene Jones
were Jim Jones-style sunglasses, day and night.
The performances are effective enough, and the writer-director makes the most
of that first jolting moment — Jake and Sam being handed that note. They’re
surrounded by true believers, some of them armed with AK 47s. There’s only a
small helicopter coming to pick them up in the morning. And here is a child,
pleading for rescue. That’s a deadly dilemma and drives home what happened in
Guyana 36 years ago.
The finale — chases, chaos, confusion and Kool-Aid — is competently if not
West either needed to come up with a truly modern spin on this mass
hypnosis/cult thing, or come clean and admit whose story he was telling and
stick to the facts. “The Sacrament” has only graphic shooting/immolation and
poisoning Hollywood effects to recommend it. The characters don’t earn our
empathy. There’s little pathos. It is horrific without delivering the punch or
punchlines of a horror movie, a formula guaranteed not to satisfy either the
historically minded or the horror fan.
MPAA Rating:R for disturbing violent content including bloody images,
language and brief drug use
Cast: Amy Seimetz, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Gene Jones,Kentucker Audley
Credits: Written and directed by Ti West. A Magnolia release.