Friday, June 27, 2014

The Sacrament

I could have seen this during IFFBoston, but figured that it would come back to Boston, probably in the same place (the Brattle Theatre) that it played during the festival. And it did! I was a little late getting to it, though - combination of it only playing late shows during the weekend and messing up my ankle.

Pretty good, although I find myself a little surprised by how few Ti West films I've seen - just this, The Inkeepers, and his segment of V/H/S. It seems like I should have seen more; he's become such a prominent name in the genre during the time when I've been following it more closely, but it hasn't worked out that way. I'm curious, though, as his next two films look to be bigger in budget and exploring different genre territory, and I'm wondering if doing a sci-fi movie and a western will get me closer to really liking him. He's got some great skills, but for as much as he clearly loves horror, there's been something unsatisfying about his movies. I think his urge to recreate things, sometimes fetishistically (like the VHS release of The House of the Devil) gets in the way of his desire to shock: You can't surprise when the whole thing is so darn familiar.

The Sacrament

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 June 2014 at the Brattle Theatre (first-run, DCP)

The text at the beginning of The Sacrament describes the journalistic style of its protagonists as "immersionism", and I suspect that this is writer/director Ti West's goal as well - getting the audience inside a situation that it would otherwise consider alien. Unfortunately, he makes a few missteps that must have seemed like good ideas in doing so, and his ability to execute a good scare sequence only gets him so far.

One of those missteps, I think, is telling its story in faux-documentary style, which means West starts by introducing us to Sam (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg), a reporter and videographer for Vice Media, and their friend Patrick (Kentucker Audley), a fashion photographer with a story about how his sister's sober living community has packed up and moved to the middle of some Latin American jungle. They wrangle an invitation to visit, but there are men with guns to pass before they see Caroline (Any Seimetz). She seems in good spirits, though a bit reluctant to introduce them to "Father" (Gene Jones).

At its best, this documentary or found-footage style is the cinematic equivalent of writing a novel in the first person - inherently subjective, allowing the viewer to experience exactly what the characters are feeling. In this case, though, it has the opposite effect, always keeping the audience on the periphery, not letting the audience feel what the likes of Caroline who have deeply-rooted turmoils and temptations are feeling. The big interview with Father is manipulated into taking on the feel of a late-night talk show, which only gets across that he is quite good at controlling his perception, although at the cost of making Jake look bad at his job. And maybe that's the effect West wants to create, to keep Farther and Caroline and a whole village full of people like her mysterious and unknowable, a danger to normal people who encounter them at the wrong time - an external horror as opposed to an internal one. It's valid, I suppose, but also the safe call.

Full review at EFC

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