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The Sacrament (Blu-ray Review)

SacramentI’m a big big fan of up and coming indie horror director Ti West.  He reached me in an incredible way with his breakout film House Of The Devil and I’ve been following his career with great excitement ever since.  His follow up, The Innkeepers was a great little follow up with a more modern approach.  After it was announced he was doing a sci fi movie with Liv Tyler, but that hasn’t taken off yet.  Ti then partnered up with Eli Roth to do The Sacrament.  I’ll be honest, when it was first announced they’d be using the found footage aesthetic I was a little disappointed.  But, Ti West did make an interesting little piece in the first V/H/S movie AND he’s a rather smart and creative director, so there had to be some logical reasoning behind it or a plan.

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Film 

Vice magazine has got a potentially great new story.  Their photographer, Patrick, has been contacted by his estranged sister about meeting up with him at Eden Parish.  Caroline was a former drug addict who, following rehab, joined up with a religious group and all of a sudden one day disappeared.  He takes Vice head honcho Sam and cameraman Jake with him to document what is going on at Eden Parish.  Upon arrival, everything seems very simple and Utopian, aside from the armed men who escorted them to the parish.  They all follow a man they call “Father”.  As you can assume, this is all too good to be true as dark secrets about the society start to unravel as Sam and Jake dig deeper.

I’ve seen The Sacrament twice now, and I’ve got to say after this second viewing I’ve rated it higher.  The first time I saw it I had rented it on VOD back in May.  It was very surprising how I was sucked into this movie once again.  When I watched it this second time I was honestly just checking some specs and bonus for it and was planning on watching it later than I did, but I started the movie and got right involved and followed it through to the end.  The film just has an eerie-ness and a hook that feels like a discovery even if you’ve seen it before.

While the film is told through found footage, it really does feel appropriate and never a distraction.  You don’t have the typical scenes where we are told why they are film or mention the camera or ridiculousness of having it on in some areas.  Its smartly used as a device to put the viewer in a perspective that feels like you are discovering this place as our main characters are.  You see this world with every limitation as though you were there.  The Sacrament’s environment is far more eerie and impacting when told first person than it would have been as a traditional film.  The camera is not meant for the sense of “boo” or to make the film extra scary, its to make an extra effective narrative.  And its a patient and more steady camera to help you enjoy it instead of forced shaking and fast movements to make it feel “real”.  Ti West and crew feel like they’ve studied how to make this an aesthetic device effectively instead of being a “gimmick”, wanting to avoid the crap and cheapness that comes when its not in good hands.

Also helping sell this is a terrific trio of a cast if you’re into a lot of indie dramas/comedies/horror/”mumblecore” (not a fan of that term, but that’s what they call it).   Leading the way is AJ Bowen, who is a terrific actor (cannot wait to see him break out in a big way one day) who plays sort of the audience’s “in” character.  He’s got a lot of feelings to transcribe and things going on and does a great job with a sort of tougher and restrictive role.  Aiding him as Jake is director Joe Swanberg who puts together one of his best performances.  Its not quite as fun as his You’re Next role, but its one of his most believable and grounded performances to date.  Playing the sister is Amy Seimetz who I have a big ‘ol screencrush on.  Sure, she is super easy on the eyes, but its moreso she’s one hard working person when it comes to acting/directing/writing and starring in interesting films (check her out in last year’s Upstream Color among many other things).  She plays Caroline extremely well, as she seems so kind and happy, but you can just tell she’s hiding behind some sort of mask.

Gene Jones plays the role of Father.  And man, this guy has all sorts of interesting influences with his character wrapped up in one vile, creepy cult leader.  You can see hints of older film stereotypes of prison wardens, small town sheriffs, cult leaders and the like seamlessly woven into his portrayal of Father.  And I love how, while celebrated, there is just this darkness that surrounds his persona.  As the film wears on, layer after layer is peeled revealing some of what he truly is, but really was the whole time.  Gene Jones delivers his lines perfectly and is so good in this role, I’ll almost have a hard time not seeing Father if I see him in other movies.

The Sacrament isn’t your typical genre-fare horror.  We once again are witness to Ti West’s “slow burn” approach, which is quite the expert at.  But, its more of the disturbing horror that gets under your skin.  More of a real life horror than anything supernatural or a blood splattering murderer on the loose.  It has take its inspiration from the Jonestown Massacre that occurred in 1978, playing with the horrors of life with cults and such.  As the movie plays you’re constantly insecure about it and uncomfortable because its eerie in a lifelike way that you just don’t trust.  If you’re looking for something different in horror from one of its best working directors and are something who’s “over” or has never been into found footage, you should really check this one out.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail:  Its a sharp picture, but with slightly above average detail.  Maybe it’s the brightness of the setting the story takes place.  You can make out patterns and such, but I felt there could have been just a little more detail in this one.  Don’t get me wrong though, the picture still looks good and is effective.

Depth:  Depth is really fantastic here.  The village is really well set as you get a sense of space and distance throughout the film.

Black Levels:  Minimal crushing occurs.  The night-time scenes are dark, but there are well lit enough to grab enough detail and have an idea of the environment.

Color Reproduction:  There’s not much stand out color aside from the green.  When there is blood, it does pop out.  But, most colors are held in check to give a sort of lifelike and sun-beaten look to everything.

Flesh Tones:  Consistent and a little on the bright side.  Its a very sunny movie so the display of skin reflects that.  Detail is average, as the faces appear a bit smooth.

Noise/Artifacts:  Clean

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Audio 

Audio Format(s):  English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics:  For a found footage film, this is a really clean track with minimal camera-inspired distortion sounds.  Sound effects are very lifelike and the score is gracefully woven into the track.  Volumes vary with how the perspective of the camera goes.

Low Frequency Extension: Subwoofer action happens with the camera being set down, guns firing and connecting and intensives the helicopter and transportation truck.

Surround Sound Presentation:  A lot of ambiance for most of the film, although voices and action come from the surround as the party happens and chasing.  Right to left action is very strong as the camera moves around the speakers expertly catch every movement and sound shift.

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue, is clean and clear, mainly front heavy.  Since this is found footage, as the camera moves so does some of the conversation’s volume levels.

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Extras 

The Sacrament comes as a single Blu-ray disc release.

Commentary – Writer/Director Ti West and stars AJ Bowen and Amy Seimetz regroup to go back through filming the film.

Creating The Sacrament: Revealing The Vision (HD, 21:07) – Eli Roth leads a set of interviews of cast and crew on getting the film made and shooting it.  Some of the most intelligent discussions about found footage (or “first person narrative” as they call it) are in this, which made me really appreciate why they went for it with this movie.

Working With The Director: The Ti West Experience (HD, 5:56) – Cast and crew talk about working with Ti as a director, many of whom have worked on many projects with him.  A lot of ass kissing and cliched comments, but Ti West is deserving of it.

Preparing For Takeoff: Behind The Scenes Helicopter Sequence (HD, 4:52) – Behind the scenes footage of the big third act action-oriented scene.  They do some really cool windows to show what the actual footage is looking like too while simultaneously showing the behind the scenes camera angles.

AXS TV: A Look At The Sacrament (HD, 3:38) – A very brief super slim version of the Making Of.  Same interviews, same lines, same everything.  But shorter!

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Summary 

The Sacrament is a unique horror film that actually uses the found footage motif to expertise levels.  The film’s story should be eerie enough and get under your skin to have you thinking about some things after and maybe researching the Jonestown Massacre of 1978.  It comes with a good audio and video presentation and a nice little group of extras.  I particularly suggest the Making Of featurette as it contains one of the best discussions of the found footage aspect I’ve ever heard.  Ti West continues to be one to watch, and this film leads him down a new path in the realm of horror.  This film should be a must have for any horror fan or Ti West follower.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

1 Response to “The Sacrament (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Also a big Ti West fan and certainly did dig this flick! Nice review.