'The Sacrament' Review: Progressive Cult Demands Obedience ... or Else

The inhabitants of Eden Parish don't live in a Nanny State. It's more like a Father State.

"Father" is the name of the community leader in the new horror film The Sacrament. He's an old southern gent whose unsteady gait shouldn't be confused for weakness. He's got his fellow citizens in a steel grip, and his hatred of American imperialism is the glue that binds them together. That and a belief in a higher power, of course.

Ti West's The Sacrament tells the story of how Father's commune reacts when strangers intrude upon their solitude. It's West's standard brew of slow-build horror marinated with a slam against statism.

For progressive viewers, the horrors come as some of their values get roasted for our entertainment. And The Sacrament sure is engrossing, although the film's final minutes feels like it unnecessarily abandons the horror genre for more lucid, but less fun, plot points.

The film, available via services like Amazon streaming and iTunes and in theaters June 6, follows three journalists (A.J. Bowen, Kentucker Audley, Joe Swanberg) investigating a commune where violence, greed and hunger are but a memory.

The journalists arrive with their New York cynicism intact, but they're impressed by the commitment shown by the community members. They work hard, get along with one another and all say it's the happiest they've ever been. It helps that the sister (Amy Seimetz) of one of the reporters is a new member, and she can't stop singing its praises.

It's all too good to be true, of course, something West develops with a near-perfect sense of both timing and storytelling necessity. The film's terrific score isn't necessary given the cast's commitment, but it's jolting all the same.

West employs a quasi-found footage approach, a welcome reprieve from endless shaky cam visuals. Father's disturbing handiwork is enough to leave us rattled, thank you.

Character actor Gene Jones is a revelation as Father, a figure whose charismatic presence can sell his followers virtually anything. Jones would fit in beautifully on MSNBC, alternately crushing American norms while touting the benefits of big government. He wants all your money, but he'll make sure to spend it wisely. And he doesn't seem to mind that his cult of personality makes him like a God among mortals.

Of course, the community is a faith-based flock, but West eschews any overt Catholic bashing en route to the bloody finale. It's enough to show the corrosive powers of blind faith and adulation.

The Sacrament  shows what happens when a vibrant storyteller expands the scope of Hollywood's standard targets.


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