The October Diaries: The Sacrament


Illustration by Max Brown
Blurbs by Sean & Christof

October 27th, 2014:
The Sacrament

Year: 2013
Director: Ti West
Format: Netflix
From Wikipedia: A news team trails a man as he travels into the world of Eden Parish to find his missing sister, where it becomes apparent that this paradise may not be as it seems.
Tagline: Live as one. Die as one.

Christof’s Take:

Here is another interesting emulation from Ti West, but this time it is not a nitty-gritty pastiche of 80’s horror that he perfected with House of the Devil (available for sale on VHS!). Instead it makes for an inventive installment in the found-footage genre.

I know that some people are sick of the found footage format — that is has been done to death, when really it hasn’t. If you think about it, the opposite is true. The non-fake-found-footage genre is 99.9% of cinema, which is not to say I urge the us all to try to balance out those scales, but at least welcome the possibility that someone can do something worthwhile with it.

I think this is a fascinating form. A dodgy one, sure. But I’d rather people keep taking stabs at it than worry about whether it’s “too gimicky”, because there’s still interesting stuff happening in this sub-genre, from the big budget production of 2012’s Chronicle, down to the micro-budget production of Bobcat Goldthwait’s recent release, Willow Creek.

What Ti West did was take it out of the supernatural and myth spheres, portraying instead the culture of cult, and the naturalness behind those that believe in myths of the supernatural. Beyond that, the Jonestown footage is being shot by and for VICE, a company that is intrigued by reporting on strange topics. So there is a different, and very specific, kind of style-guide for West to mess with. The decision to include a real-world brand is bold for a number of reasons, but effective most in its activation of a part of your brain that now associates the film with the real world. This is the area of your thought and belief and discomfort that all found-footage horror strives to get mixed up in. Adding VICE as an element might help get it across the border — or if not, perhaps a little closer to it.

Personally, I favor the ambiance-sculpting of House of the Devil and The Innkeepers a great deal more than The Sacrament, but I’m glad West is willing to get outside of his comfort zone, and I’m impressive with the result.  Ready and willing to watch whatever he has lined up for us.

The Sacrament Paused

Sean’s Take:

Found footage is a tough sub-genre to get me to sign-off on. I’m one of those stick-in-the-mud types. When I think “movie” my first impulse is a narrative film featuring human beings being depicted with as much flair or restraint as the filmmaker deems necessary in delivering the drama. With found-footage the disconnect usually comes from the conceit itself.

To only be viewing what one of the characters happens to be recording usually represents a fractured perspective, filled with gaps that make my mind feel like it’s being manipulated too much (reality TV’s hyper-manipulation is the far end of this extreme — and is probably the root cause of my reluctance). This is where the strengths of the story and the filmmaker need to be heightened in order for me to get on board with the movie. Even after loving House of the Devil and The Innkeepers it took a number of attempts before I finally agreed to watch this one.

Ti West, thankfully (and, at this point, obviously) had a good handle on what to show and chose his particular reasoning well to include the found footage element. He hides his horrific investigation into cult-life under the guise of a Vice TV program. So, already, my mind makes the switch. It knows what context I should be scrutinizing this. And the what-we-see versus what-we-don’t see moments feel less forced (knowing that it should be edited to match a TV show’s cadence — immediately owning my perceived fault in the sub-genre).

I thought the performances were uniformly excellent and the the location work grounded the creep factor in a facade of impending dread. West has shown us, again and again (and now again) that he is a master of sussing out the slow dread. He wears on your nerves for the first two-thirds of his movies then he tips the scale in the dread column and shit gets nasty and frantic so quick you almost feel a rush of relief the true horror has arrived because the build-up had worn on you so much.

I still like House of the Devil the most out of his movies (West has to even acknowledge he struck a very rare kind of magic with that one), but each one has been well worth my time. I’m really looking forward to his take on the western (his next project) as his rendition of sun-cooked atmosphere and dusty violence sounds like the perfect cinematic prescription for filmgoers like me who’ve been diagnosed with GIMME-MORE-WESTERNS disease.



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