The Sacrament

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Sacrament Movie Poster Image
Thriller from cult-fave director is uneven yet effective.
  • R
  • 2014
  • 95 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie has some interesting ideas about people working together and helping one another. It suggests that humans can live just fine without technology in the right circumstances.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The reporters try their best to help people, but they're frequently caught off guard and are mostly ineffective.

Violence

Guns are introduced early, and characters are shot and killed later in the film. Some blood is shown. Dozens of people die from drinking poison. Children and babies are given poison. A sister injects her brother with it. Anyone who doesn't die from the poison is shot. A woman's throat is sliced. A woman catches on fire. A man commits suicide by shooting his head off.

Sex

It's suggested that one character is having a threesome with two women, but nothing is shown.

Language

"F--k" and "s--t" are used several times. "Hell" is used, as is "idiot."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A man briefly snorts cocaine, mostly off screen. Many characters are described as "drug addicts and alcoholics," though all are recovered and aren't shown using.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Sacrament is a found-footage thriller with horror overtones from cult horror director Ti West (The House of the DevilThe Innkeepers). Many horror fans will want to see it based on his name alone. Dozens of characters are shown dying from poison or shootings. There's some blood; necks are sliced, and a character commits suicide by shooting his head off. A woman catches on fire, and children and babies are given poison. Language-wise, "f--k" and "s--t" are heard several times. A character snorts cocaine, and though it's mostly off screen, it's clear what he's doing. Many characters are referred to as recovering alcoholics or drug addicts. In one scene, it's suggested that a male character is having a threesome with two women, though nothing is shown. The movie has a fair bit in common with the real-life 1978 Jonestown Massacre, and parents may want to educate older teens about this incident in relation to the movie.

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What's the story?

Fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) receives a mysterious letter from his sister (Amy Seimetz), who has struggled with alcoholism and gone to live in a religious retreat. Accompanied by radical reporter Sam (AJ Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg), Patrick travels to Eden Parish, where converts grow food, work together, and take care of one another under the kindly command of "Father" (Gene Jones). But just as things are starting to look decent, the crew receives a cry of help from a young girl: Many of the residents are there against their will. As a general uproar begins, Father decides to put into effect his deadly, last-ditch back-up plan. Can the intrepid journalists stop it?

Is it any good?

After writer/director Ti West's two great horror movies, The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, his oddly conventional THE SACRAMENT is something of a letdown. It begins with the use of the old "found footage" device, which isn't just stale and inconsistent but also fails to make room for the beautiful, tense compositions that West employed in his earlier films. Secondly, the entire idea is simply borrowed from the real-life Jonestown Massacre of 1978, leaving little in the way of surprise.

Yet West is such an inventive, powerful filmmaker that he still manages to establish some interesting spaces, even with the clunky hand-held camerawork. The blocky cabins, the space between, a pavilion, and darkness, all come into play. Moreover, he gets a great performance from Jones as the avuncular yet slippery Father, giving an interview with sunglasses on and addressing many of his answers to his followers, rather than to his questioner. It's a moment that's so seductive it's genuinely spooky.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Sacrament's violence. How little/much is shown? What effect does it have? How did the filmmaker's choices affect your reaction?

  • What does the movie have in common with the real-life Jonestown Massacre of 1978? How could you find out more about that event?

  • Director Ti West is known for making horror movies. Is the movie scary? How is and isn't it a horror film? Where is the line drawn?

Movie details

For kids who love scares

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