The Sacrament (2013)
Dir: Ti West
Three flannel wearing, New York hipsters who work for Vice (stay with me), go to the middle of nowhere to find some dude’s sister (“Patrick” being dude in question). In short she joined a cult dressed up as a rehab center, found God, and sent her brother a letter about it, which raised some alarm bells.
Patrick, Vice’s very nonchalant fashion photographer, hasn’t seen said sister (Caroline) in years. Contrary to what the film intends to convey, he actually seems highly inconvienanced by the idea of making such an elaborate journey to check on her safety, because it involves going all the way to Africa, and not hanging out with models in LA as he is used to. Great guy
In the letter he’s given a non specific place in Africa to fly to, (maybe because TI West didn’t feel a geographical context was necessary), to then get picked up by a random guy in a helicopter and head to a secret location which he and his friends may or may not die in.
Cue another found footage movie.
At this stage you’ve gotta question how forced this initial interaction is. Now before anyone slams me with the “true story/Jonestown speech” I am perfectly aware that it’s based on the Jonestown Incident THANKS (click Jonestown Massacre if you are unaware of the incident and for whatever reason and want to depress yourself and ruin your day with some nasty historical trivia). For the sake of simple narrative its just their basis for the journey and sudden concern over Caroline’s safety which remains a total mystery to me.
If I had a sister who turned into a junkie and went to rehab in Mississipi I may call in every now and again to check in on her progress, because it’s a bit extreme to move from NY to Mississipi in the first place. Then it might occur to me to possibly visit if I haven’t spoken to her in a while, like on a flexible quarterly basis (like a gas bill). What I wouldn’t do is just WAIT until I randomly got a letter one day inviting me to an undisclosed location on the opposite side of the world before I thought “oh yea….my sister.”
If it’s gone THAT far without a visit, an email is sufficient…maybe Skype on a special occasion.
On their way to the location, which we later find out is called “Eden Parish” we get the feeling that they’re really not fully comprehending this whole “danger” thing. The people responsible for picking them up and dropping them off begin the pleasant exchange by pulling out a gun and threatening to shoot them if they carry on filming. Luckily super chirpy Caroline pops up to let everyone know it’s just a precaution because of where they are, and it’s all peace and love and they’re in Paradise now.
Caroline then takes them on a very anti climatic guided tour of the “grounds”, which looks more like a handful of scattered shacks then paradise, and explains that Eden Parish is lead by “Father”. Father is a man who “saved” her, and seemingly did the same for dozens of other people living there. She tells them in a highly exaggerated charles manson-esque monologue that everything was built from scratch and they are the happiest people on earth.. BUT it wouldn’t have been possible without some level of secrecy.
And this is when the questions start….
I don’t really need to bore you with a spoiler alert, because you know what happens in Jonestown and that’s literally what happens here (sorry kids). Theres no axe welding killer in the commute, no satanic worship, no supernatural forces, just some old creep who’s sadly managed to rob and manipulate a bunch of people and successfully detach them from all contact with the outside world.
There are times where his rhetoric and vision actually seems quite socialist and profound. Like a slightly nutty more religious left wing leader, but then you remember he’s literally just an opportunistic mentalist who’s using people for money, sex and to stroke his ego. Like a political leader, but with cyanide.
There are points where it’s slow, and a bit “where the fuck is this going” (basically like a Vice documentary), but then it gets really good when they have a one-on-one with father, and he manages to shit all over Sam’s questions. I don’t know why I found that so satisfying, guess I obviously like rooting for the bad guy.
I will admit when I initially heard “Hi I’m Sam Turner….Vice….Williamsburg…Brooklyn…beard….fashion photographer….ginger beard…” I was like ok I hope you die soon.
Sadly you’ll have to watch the film to find out