The Sacrament handles a real-life tragedy with creativity in its first half and relatively no grace in its final half. The film centers on Sam (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg), filmmakers from VICE who are hoping to help a man find his older sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz). Caroline has struggled with drug problems and entered a sober community when her brother receives a letter telling him to visit; the only way they can, though, is by helicopter to a remote area. There they find men armed with guns guarding “Eden Parish,” a haven that has been created to avoid the imperialism, racism, greed, and carelessness of the outside world. Everyone loves it there, thanking the mysterious Father (Gene Jones) for his ability to put this group together. As Sam and Jake realize that the place isn’t the paradise it was made out to be, a sinister plan emerges from within.
The set-up is fascinating and the performances convincing enough, yet outside of Sam there is relatively no character development for the supporting characters. West is an efficient director who understands the impact found footage can have; the handheld style doesn’t necessarily add scares, but creates a creepy, seemingly realistic element at times. Yet the film’s final half hour fails to satisfy, pushing aside previous narrative hints and showing the aftermath of the tragedy to a full extent. The film’s relentlessly unsettling and grim in those moments, but focusing on the event for five minutes and studying the characters for the rest of the time would have sufficed and had a similar impact. The film feels as if it doesn’t have remorse for the individuals involved in the tragedy, but it poses an interesting philosophical question: how far can one man go to lead a group of people to do anything he desires? The Sacrament has some heavy religious commentary, but delivers it in a heavy-handed manner and remains too distanced in its conclusion.
Grade: ★★½ (out of 5)