Ten Thoughts About THE SACRAMENT

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Eli Roth’s name should have tipped me off. Curiosity 1, John 0

The DVD cover, with tasteful imagery (a cross, a wooden chair, a very uncomfortable-looking bench) and quotes from mainstream press (Variety) give an impression of Prestige. The director did HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. The art and the director sold me.

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Ti West is a good director. There, I said something nice.

I hesitated, though: the DVD was pushed as horror, but the NPR-friendly cover told me “It’s about Jonestown.” The copy ‘what they don’t know’ hinted at a supernatural angle. It wasn’t.  What the ad copy hints is a big twist is no such thing—who goes into this thinking it’s about anything but a cult that gets scary when the leader leads his followers to Hell?  And that’s what it is.  I was not in the mood to watch a movie about Jonestown, a terrifically depressing subject. So why didn’t I move on? Because I like horror movies.

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Jeff couldn’t figure out why he felt lightheaded, but he was willing to continue with the scene.

 

It follows some of the “beats” of Jonestown so closely that I started Fast Forwarding. I knew what was coming, and didn’t feel the need to have it drawn out.

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Is there any chance at all that this large white man smiling with his arms outstretched is a good guy?

One death involves immolation. Nope, THE REFLECTING SKIN still holds its trophy for Best Gasoline Suicide. I suspect it will never be defeated—not for what it shows but for how it builds up to something it DOESN’T show.

The Jim Jones character was good, but this sort of role is so predictable now. Everyone knows the Father is a loon who’s going to get everyone offed. Being a patriarch is, on its own, evil.

Getting to the big turning point takes forever.

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“Can’t we just talk it out and settle our differences in a way that doesn’t lead to violence? OK, well, can you at least give us a head start?”

This movie tries to be both a fake-umentary AND a regular-old horror film. The jarring use of first-person P.O.V. would be fine if the acting wasn’t so artificial. In long takes we are very conscious that these people are acting, not behaving.

Watching a re-creation of the horrors of Jonestown isn’t my idea of a good time. In the last couple of decades we’ve embraced the idea that gore is fun, with discussion of “kills” and final girls and all that. The problem is when there’s no compelling force underneath the obvious misery. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is gory but it is gripping–we are pulled along in this non-realistic situation that is depicted in a way that it feels true. This non-real truth is hard to create in film in this era where movies are dismissed because they’re not “real”–“People don’t talk this way” is a common criticism. Do people talk the way the characters talk in Chinatown, Citizen Kane, Network, Pulp Fiction? No. Realism isn’t the only door into the House of Art.

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“How’d this get here?”

A well-made movie without surprises, which is deadly for a horror flick. The big turning point is indeed horrifying, but it’s depressing; it’s not entertaining, so we slog through, because since it’s about a real event we’re better people than if we watched a ghost story.  At least they didn’t go with that original ending.

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Based on his choice of apparel, it could’ve been worse.
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