TIFF 2013: The Sacrament (Ti West, USA)

Drawing immediate but discernibly immersive comparisons to the early ’70s-established Jonestown settlement, Ti West’s The Sacrament follows an unbiased, well-intentioned Vice correspondence crew to a comparable offshore community with the intention of seeking out photographer Patrick’s (Kentucker Audley) estranged sister. Not knowing what to expect, these gentlemen go about their business, systematically interviewing the locals of Eden Parish so as to achieve their wraparound goal in producing a compelling documentary. Collectively conducted without a hitch, interviews and the like lead them to believe that everything is as it seems, Patrick’s sister embracing the benefit of the doubt until their interference inevitably procures and sustains a life-threatening butterfly effect.

Despite its thinness, Ti West’s career arc thus far has yielded a trio of individually distinct efforts, The Sacrament this time remaining more unsettling than terrifying in a traditional sense. Pairing the well-worn found footage approach with a characteristic and increasingly tense slow burn, West’s directorial eloquence is often palpable in the form of detail-heavy world building and execution, his intentions in presenting the natives as eerily relatable and rational thinkers sustaining a superb deftness. From faith-fueled, seasoned seniors to twentysomethings on the existential mend, these individuals all convincingly articulate why Eden Parish was right for them, their newfound lifestyles ringing agreeable even if the Vice crew and viewers alike wouldn’t join their ranks.

Finding additional strength in a necessarily charismatic group leader, The Sacrament further bolsters this acuteness through a particularly tense live interview conducted with “Father” (Gene Jones). Each answer given is a bit more than stock and tastefully mania-free, the ensuing elongated paroxysm remaining expected based on our previous experiences with West’s work. As things snowball hellishly out of control via a fist-clenching stretch of horrifying continuity, The Sacrament assuredly achieves a lasting effect, the well-rounded, researched and implemented sum of its parts overcoming trite found footage exposition and build-up.

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