Friday, January 2, 2015

Movie Review: "The Sacrament" (2013)

Happy New Year, everyone! Hey, let's hope 2015 is going to be better than what came before, eh...? I know! I doubt it, too!

One of my wife's top topics is the Jonestown Massacre of 1978, so with one final Holiday evening of a self-imposed Nothing To Do (no really: final! I gotta get my ass in gear), we saw "The Sacrament", which has been on both Netflix and several Best Horror Films of 2014 lists for a while now. Putting aside my trepidation of director Ti West, we fired up the XBOX and let Magnet Films and producer Eli Roth do their thing: Recovering drug addict Caroline has holed herself up at a drug-free retreat called Eden Parish. When she invites her fashion photographer brother Patrick to check it out, he arrives with Sam and Jake from VICE Magazine because there's clearly a story in here. There's also armed guards, an abused little girl, and an enigmatic religioso called Father whose paranoia kicks in by the arrival of the journalists- all of which turn Shangri-La into Shit Outta Luck in just shy of twenty-four hours.

West creates an excellent atmosphere. The first half oozes with dread, and the second is nail-biting terror- exceptionally difficult to pull off in bright daylight since the climax occurs at morning, but damn. He also gets solid, creepy performances out of my actors, and this "found-footage" movie doesn't feel found-footage: there are quick edits and crisp cinematography that really captures the feeling of hiding in the woods from fuckers out to kill you.

So what is my problem with Ti West? I don't think the guy is particularly creative story-wise. The Sacrament is an almost by-the-numbers Cliff's Notes of the Jonestown Massacre; all West left out was a selfless congressman. (Back when politicians did their jobs, it was Leo J. Ryan, California-D, who braved one assassination attempt to personally rescue the cult members and died to a second.) West has said that this film is his most horrific one yet, which isn't too hard when quoting cult leader Jim Jones directly. My wife has seen documentaries on Jonestown, and pretty much kept piping up "Yep! THAT happened!" "Yeah! The 'Please Help Us' note; THAT happened, too!" "Yeah, Jones TOTALLY said that!" throughout the viewing. Which is fine, but I can't really call it original. Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Silence of The Lambs were all inspired by Ed Gein; you don't end THOSE movies with nipple belts weighing on your mind.

But, for those unwilling to see real photos of a field in Guyana where you can't see the grass for the corpses (until 9/11 happened, Jonestown held the record for most killed American civilians), The Sacrament shines as a means of awareness towards a terrible tragedy. And one day, Ti West will receive a unique, innovative screenplay to direct, and that horror film is going to knock it out of the park. 5/5 cyanide syringes.

...Oh, and I have a great idea: how about we, as a society, stop goddamn saying that obnoxious accusation of conformity known as "You drank the Kool-Aid!" Really. Not because the drink was actually Flavor-Aid, nor because of sensitivity to the survivors- for the record, there were a lot of last-minute epiphanies and they were all answered with bullets to the head. I mean, feel free if you want to keep using it, but consider this: willingly drinking poison was the fifth insane thing these people did. What does that say about you!? "Well, I can see why you thought this guy in dark glasses was the Nazarene; I have no problem with you selling all your shit to build him a compound in East Bumblefuck, Whereverthehell; I completely understand leaving your home, your career, your family, and everyone you know to live there in a tent with tropical insects; and I'm totally down with letting strangers have their way with me sexually and violently! But you lose me on the cyanide! Dude! You have so much to live for!" So the next time the rest of society gets in line for an iProduct or votes for the candidate you dislike and you just have to say something, do us all a favor: bray like a sheep...? 

Besides, Kirk fucking Cameron, a man who does not believe in evolution, said "You drank the Kool-Aid!" to his fellow Christian Christian in his execrable Holiday movie (ha, ha!) Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas, for not Jesus-ing everything up as much as he did. HE said it. There is FOOTAGE of him saying it. That automatically means it is no longer cool or funny. You don't want to be like Kirk Cameron, do you? Stupid question!

You KNOW there's a off-radar compound and a mass suicide bubbling up in this asshole. Give him ten or fifteen years.

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