Review by Mark Schwab
The problem with using actual history to motivate a horror film is you really tread a fine line between deeply disturbing imagery and simplistic exploitive trash. Ti West's The Sacrament actually tiptoes this line so finely that it ends up being neither. It's too well made to be dismissed as garbage but also follows the real-life Jonestown tragedy so closely that the horror elements never really develop. Since the actual events are not yet deep enough into the past, it all just becomes a wet blanket of sadness.
Sam, Patrick and Jake are all part of a fictional Vice television team sent to follow up on Patrick's sister Caroline. It seems she is living a blissful life in the jungle paradise of Eden Parrish with her fellow hippie friends all under the watchful eye of "Father" (Gene Jones). When the team arrives and starts filming, all looks well. Of course, we all know that all is not as it seems and things quickly spiral downhill as they begin to fear for their safety.
Ti West is an experienced filmmaker and he moves things along at a decent clip for most of the way, only getting bogged down towards the end. All of the actors do the fake reality show characterizations decently, if not particularly memorably. However Gene Jones as the enigmatic "Father" is truly electrifying. His scenes are by far the best of the movie as his oily voice perfectly captures that of a master manipulator with so much creepy subtext just below the surface. When Jones is on screen, some real chills went up my spine. Alas, his screen time is limited so we are mostly left with watching events unfold almost exactly as it did at Jonestown in 1978 through the eyes of thinly written television dudes (the relationship between Patrick and Caroline as brother and sister has no chemistry whatsoever). Which, for me, left no suspense or dread at all - just glumly waiting for the awfulness (although recreated with skill) to play out.
If you are not familiar with the actual events dramatized here, The Sacrament might be able to get under your skin. Otherwise, I think you'll feel the whole exercise might be crossing the line into bad taste. It's no Guyana: Cult of the Damned (a truly worthless piece of excrement), but it still flirts too close with cashing in on a tragedy to sell downloads.