Ti West may well be the single most frustrating writer-director working in independent horror today. After making such a great impact with The House Of The Devil, he seems to have gone downhill with every subsequent release, constantly squandering his potential and making it increasingly hard to put his name forward as the shining light in horror that he could have been.
The Sacrament doesn't rectify the situation. It's done (when convenient) in a documentary style, but with opening credits to seemingly ensure, I guess, that the illusion is never once entirely believable. A. J. Bowen and Joe Swanberg are two young men reporting for Vice who tag along with a man named Patrick (Kentucker Audley) after hearing about the strange events concerning his sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz). It turns out that she's cleaned up her life, after many problem years, and is living in an idyllic community overseen by a religious leader, Father (Gene Jones). Is paradise on Earth possible, or is everything not quite as it seems when the visitors start to look beyond the surface of this peaceful place?
Where to begin with my complaints about this movie? Well, I guess I could always start with what I actually liked about it. I thought Bowen was pretty damn good, as he so often is. Jones was alright, although not captivating enough to believe that so many people would flock to, and stay with, him. And Seimetz did well in her role. The general premise is a good one, with the first half playing out in a way that sets up a potentially brilliant back end. And there are individual scenes that are pretty bloody intense, such as the moment in which a desperate mother does what she thinks is best to protect her daughter from whatever might be in store for her.
The rest of the movie is either clumsy, lazy (which seems to be an unfortunate trait that West carries between each movie lately), or just ill-advised, at best. The opening credits are really the first warning sign that this is a director about to utilise a style he either clearly doesn't understand or doesn't want to bother with for the duration of the film. By the time we get to the second half, and the scenes during which the camerawork is clearly not being controlled by any of our main characters, then you just end up wondering what the whole point was. Well, that's if you can stop thinking about how unbelievable everything gets as the final third moves from drama into horror territory. Character motivations and actions make little sense, the tension dissipates just as it should be ratcheting up by degrees, and it eventually becomes a bit of a chore to get to the end credits.
There's also that problem with Jones, a problem I already mentioned above. He's good enough in his performance, but it's not the right performance for the role, one that is also sorely treated by a weak script. If this is a man who can gain numerous followers and rule over them in an idyllic commune then he must come across as someone who can sell veggie-burgers to vampires. Jones can't manage that. He never seems to have enough presence, or (worst of all) the courage of his convictions.
There's almost enough here to make me like this movie, that's the most frustrating thing about it. Once again, West has teased me with his potential before retreating into his comfort zone. And the worst thing is . . . . . . . I'll still hold out hope for his next movie. Just as I did for this one.