Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Sacrament

The Sacrament (2013)

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The last and, arguably, the best of the stack of Ti West movies Zack (@LightisFading on Twitter) lent me, like, ages ago, The Sacrament is about a journalism crew (AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg) from Vice and their photographer friend (Kentucker Audley) going to some jungle somewhere to shoot a piece on a creepy hippy community and hopefully convince the photographer's sister (Amy Seimetz) to come home. It goes exactly where you think it's going to go, but it's so uncomfortable that it's okay.

I'm not typically a fan of found footage movies - I get that they're so plentiful because, generally speaking, they're really cheap to make, but that doesn't make them good or even entertaining. Cameras jiggling around in the dark doesn't really do a whole hell of a lot for me, and most found footage movies are so poorly thought out that it would have been better for them not to have been made at all.

This movie, though, both grounds itself in the real world, and gives itself an excuse to not look like something a child filmed, by setting up that the characters are doing one of those Vice documentaries.

It lends a level of credibility to the whole thing which is further enforced when the community members describe why they decided to abandon society and go live in the jungle. All of them are from poor, marginalized neighbourhoods, or, in the case of Amy Seimetz' character, drug users. It seems rational that they would want to fuck off away from modern society. I can see the appeal.

Plus the head of the community (Gene Jones) is weirdly charismatic. I mean, yeah, he's creepy as all fuck, partially because most people have heard of the Jonestown massacre and that's the first place our minds go when we see some weird neo-Baptist setting up a community in the jungle. But he also talks a weird kinda sense, it's hard to not see his point, at least in the first part of the movie.

The second part of the movie gets really upsetting, really quick. Spoiler alert, the inevitable happens and the community members commit mass suicide while the camera guy and reporter try to get out alive.

Really, the story is not very complicated. Guys go to community, community leader crazy, everyone die, guys attempt to escape with varying degrees of success. It doesn't need anything more complex. It doesn't even need strong characters, let's get real, I didn't really give a shit about any of the people in the movie.

This movie prevails exclusively on atmosphere for the first part, and sheer unpleasantness for the second part. I will admit that I'm a pretty sensitive person, and I was extremely uncomfortable through the last twenty or so minutes of this movie. Which is good, I guess, for me anyway.

That's partly due to the hyper-realism of it. While the front part of my brain knew that this was a movie, there was that little nagging bit in the back that was telling me it wasn't and that was very upsetting.

The only things that bugged me about this movie actually were little technical things which, obviously, I'm going to nitpick the fuck out of.

Firstly, there are two cameras in the story. The one that the camera guy has, and the photographer guy's camera shoots video. There are scenes in the movie where one of the cameras is not present, and yet there are still at least two angles being filmed. I could explain this away as an editing thing, except when they're two shots of the same person talking. Then it's just like, man, there shouldn't be another camera there.

Secondly, at the end of the movie, one of the cameras gets left behind at the commune which is basically getting burninated so my question is... did somebody go back and retrieve the footage? When did anybody have the time or inclination to do that?

These little things kind of impede my enjoyment of the movie. However, if you're not a gigantic asshole that loves picking everything apart and hates being entertained, this movie is a damn solid thriller and one of the best found footage movies I've ever seen.

- Looks nice (+1)
- Vice backstory is a good hook (+1)
- Realism (+3)
Total: +5

- Is a found footage film (-1)
- Number of cameras doesn't add up (-1)
Total: -2
Final Score: +3

Written and Directed by: Ti West.  Starring: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Kentucker Audley, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones, Kate Lyn Sheil, Talia Dobbins.