The Sacrament

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When a Vice documentary crew discover that one of their own’s sister has fled the US, they embark on a journey to a remote jungle in an undisclosed location to find her. Once they are on the ground in “Eden Parish”, their initial warm reception soon fades away, revealing something entirely more sinister.

In the past I have not hidden my love of Ti West’s style and directorial ability. The way he manipulates his audience with camerawork and sound is second to none in the horror genre, and I would definitely class him in the school of “soon to be auteurs”. That is why, when I discovered he was directing a found footage movie, I was slightly shocked.

The Sacrament, on paper, is certainly West’s most conventional movie. There is no vintage 80s aesthetic (The House of the Devil); there aren’t any ghosts (The Innkeepers) and we actually get to see some plot, unlike his short in The ABCs of Death. Instead of the lingering self-awareness he has shown in the past, we are treated to the traditional structure and pacing one would expect of a found footage movie. Maybe in the hands of another director that description could be used to show the film in a negative light, however West’s direction brings to The Sacrament a touch of class rarely shown in found footage movies. Not only are the performances of A.J. Bowen and Gene Jones absolutely stellar, but the story is entirely believable. Other commentators have pointed out the undeniable similarities between the infamous Jonestown Massacre and The Sacrament, which, upon researching, seem to be more than poignant, however these parallels should take nothing away from how this movie is constructed.

From the outset you can feel a creeping dread hanging over the film, even when things appear to be going well for our protagonists. The silence seems deafening at points, especially as the film beginnings to ramp up towards the final act. The way West marries his use of silence with his camera, to dictate pacing in scenes, is extremely compelling; we are treated to static mid shots cut with frantic steadicam chase scenes that all feel very organic. One particular scene in the final act is framed beautifully despite its shocking content. We also get treated to “film school shots” but they never feel pretentious within the context of the film; instead it just appears that West knows exactly how to create mood with form.

Another aspect of the movie that is very politically relevant at the time that this review has been written, particularly in Britain, is the topic of religious fundamentalism and extremism. Both of these terms denote acts of brainwashing the vulnerable, which is a theme that runs thick in this film; long, compelling speeches from the mouth of “the Father” seem to have everyone hanging on his every word, which, in the climactic scenes, proves horrifying and chilling (I really cannot do justice to how brutal, yet real, the end of The Sacrament is).

Beyond what has been discussed, I think the similarities The Sacrament has to Jonestown will either put people off or drive them to learn more. I knew of the event by name but had no idea the history of Jim Jones, and I do feel West has made a film that will prove a gateway into further reading for a lot of people. As for West, I am in no doubt that this director will go on to make a serious name for himself, not only in the horror genre, but in film as a whole.

 

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The Innkeepers

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Ti West, aside from his absolutely terrible segment in ABCs of Death, has cemented himself as the horror fan’s director. The House of the Devil showed how adept West is at building suspense while tipping his nostalgia hat to bygone days of horror. The Innkeepers grabs the same baton of slow-burn suspense and carries it into new spooky territories.

Set in the real life Yankee Pedlar Inn, which is supposedly one of New England’s “most haunted buildings”, the last remaining employees try and prove that there are more than just empty rooms in the hotel before it is shut down to the public. As Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), two amateur ghost hunters, enter into the final days at the inn, a number of odd guests check in, and the pair’s desire to uncover spooky happenings causes a turn for the worse.

While I cannot recommend The Innkeepers to everyone, I feel compelled to express how much I enjoyed every moment in this movie. The pacing reminded me of old episodes of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, which I know are science fiction, or even the R.L Stine Goosebumps books that I used to read. At the beginning of The Innkeepers we are drip fed the suspense, and more often than not West is playing with the audience. He uses the camera, lighting and sound to subjectify certain rooms or pieces of furniture, and these shots and sounds chisel away at your guard throughout the first two acts. Looming darkness becomes a character, and slow zooms enhance the mystery and suspense while complimenting the pace.

Paxton is great in the lead role as Claire, bringing a charm and a sense of humour to the movie, almost embodying the winking West behind the camera. Her relationship with Healy’s Luke is the most normal part of the film, acting as a shining light bursting through the gloomy, mysterious darkness of this ghostly tale. There are only a handful of other characters in this movie; a man checks in to the inn to pay his respects to his dead wife, and a psychic becomes the catalyst for Claire’s desire to understand what resides in the basement. The final act crescendos and we are treated to a resolution that goes against everything you would expect from a tale of ghosts and spectres;  layman film fans may feel it’s an anti-climax, but in an age when horror moviegoers are calling out for realistic characters, the final lines of dialogue answer this call.

The Innkeepers is the perfect antidote for anyone suffering the sickness of gore and torture porn. It’s clever, tense and doesn’t treat its audience with disrespect. As I mentioned, it’s not for everyone, most likely due to the very slow pacing, but I for one was definitely taken inn.

The ABCs of Death

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So, The ABCs of Death, what an ambitious project this proved to be. It wasn’t an out-and-out success per sé, however there were some segments in this 26 short film anthology that showed there are some exciting directors out there in the horror genre; talents that include Adam Wingard, Ben Wheatley and the director of A Serbian Film. I won’t go into specifics or spoilers for each segment, but what I will do is give you a few short words that will highlight how I felt about the individual shorts.

A – Smart, excellent payoff.

B – ‘Nightmare’. Bait and switch.

C – Unoriginal. Student film.

D – Stunning. The best-looking segment by far.

E – Lame CGI and decades old story.

F – Fuck you, director, you hack.

G – God-awful.

H – Doesn’t fit in this anthology.

I – Statement about something.

J – Better than the other Japanese ones. That’s not hard though.

K – Killer shit. Just, no…

L – Sick, sick bastards.

M – Not applicable. There is literally nothing to see here. FAIL.

N – Funny bird.

O – Avant garde, Giallo-inspired. Breasts.

P – Pussy. Welp.

Q – Self aware.

R – WTF in a really gory, good way.

S – Robert Rodriguez? Twist.

T – Brilliant claymation.

U – Gritted teeth.

V – Balls-out insanity. And dollars, dollars everywhere.

W – Acid trip.

X – This is what I came to see (through my fingers).

Y – Even Rocky had a montage.

Z – Enough with the dicks and boobs for Christ sake.

There is no narrative that links these movies together so you may get to the end and feel really unsatisfied, especially as the last segment is absolutely fucking terrible. However, A, D, L, maybe N, Q, R, S, T, U, V, X and, to an extent, Y are good enough to hold this movie together. The ABCs of Death was adventurous enough to warrant a (better, please) sequel, just don’t give any of the budget to F, G, M or Z.

TOILET