‘The Sacrament’ (2013)

'The Sacrament'

(USA • Ti West • 2014)

Essentially an advert for Vice, combined with a fairly faithful recreation of The Jonestown Massacre (I’m sure I recognised an authentic Jim Jones speech or two), The Sacrament is ‘presented by’ Eli Roth, and written and directed by Ti West (who made the great House of the Devil, the less great The Innkeepers, and contributed to the not great V/H/S). Opening with a brief on Vice’s real-world activities, the film is shot in the style of the company’s signature gonzo video journalism (replete with captions, and straight-to-camera asides), which must have seemed like a great idea at the time.

A fashion photographer receives a cryptic invitation from his sister, who has left America as part of a mysterious utopian ‘sober living’ community, led by a man known as ‘the Father’. Two Vice staff cajole the photographer into permitting them to go with him on his visit to his sister, aiming to document it for their media channels. Upon arrival at the isolated Eden Parish project, however, guards armed with machine guns demand an entry fee, as well as custody of the visitor’s passports. Explained away by the sister as security against the local government and others, the Vice duo start to conduct interviews with the apparently exceedingly satisfied citizens, while the brother heads off with his sister to the main house for some quality time. All nice and friendly, until one of the settlers refuses an interview, letting slip that she is not meant to talk to any ‘outsiders’ about the community…

'The Sacrament'

Faster than you can write the word ‘cult’, our intrepid journos are interviewing the charismatic Father on camera, who starts to convince his interviewer of the community’s worth, his patter bolstered by the wholesome gospel-style celebration that follows. However, just as the journalist begins to praise Eden, he is passed a note, bearing the words ‘Please help us’, and witnesses a strange and solemn ritual that starts the anticipated nastiness…

I enjoyed this, despite my distaste at the very real and overt branding placement. Imagine, for a moment, a BBC Panorama Waco dramatisation, or a Channel 4 News Special Cannibal Report. Although undoubtedly a filmmaker with interesting potential, I can’t escape the feeling that West has created a – though undeniably interesting – Mac and Me for the internet generation.