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Fantastic Fest Movie Review: THE SACRAMENT

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(Editors Note: Our very own Kalyn Corrigan attended the U.S. premiere for Ti West’s THE SACRAMENT at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX, and below is her first look review for one of 2014’s highly anticipated!)

Patrick’s sister Caroline has been struggling with drugs and deviant behavior for as long as he can remember. When she informed her brother of her decision to seek betterment through the help of God in a small, remote community, Patrick was initially excited for her triumphant attitude. Yet, when he receives a mysterious letter from Caroline, Patrick enlists the aid of the journalism team ‘Vice’ to find out what is really going on in this self-proclaimed “heaven on earth”. Together, Patrick, Sam, and Jake set out to a faraway location, in the hopes of finding Patrick’s sister unharmed, and hopefully, some worthy documentary material. Upon their arrival, the crew is met with machine guns, held by unfriendly guards. They are not happy that their visitors are carrying cameras, and even less excited about the fact that Patrick has brought along others ithout informing the village first. After explaining that they are there as objective observers, they are piled into the back of a pickup truck, and driven to “Eden’s Parish”, which is about a kilometer’s length down a dirt road.Despite their initial conflicts, the group slowly comes to terms with the idea of living in this Amish-like, off the grid area, without electricity, social media, or other distractions. The locals explain the benefits of coming together as a group and building their own cabins and way of life, and how a head, Bishop figure by the name of “Father” saved each and every one of their lives. At first, little hints here and there let the newcomers in on the fact that all is not right in Eden’s Parish. Despite these red flags, the strong bonds in this little community outweigh the apparent disadvantages. As the trip goes on, however, cracks emerge within the charade, and it soon becomes evident that this display of blissful peace is merely a facade to mask the village’s troubles from the labeled “outsiders”.

Perhaps the biggest warning arrives when Sam interviews the leader of the populace, Father. Named by his loyal followers, Father is the creator Eden’s Parish, and a dead ringer for the infamous Jim Jones. He acts as the leader of his people, giving sermons and lectures to his admirers, who hang on his every word. His sly, persuasive tongue acts as a siren’s song to the lost and the desperate, but his power goes much further than that. His strategy of pointing out society’s fallacies, and suggesting that he merely seeks to create a nonjudgmental paradise where all are truly given an equal opportunity for happiness, works so effectively that even Sam has trouble focusing during the interview. Father lays his logic-based trap, and anyone who dares to listen risks falling for his manipulative charm.

When a national tragedy as devastating as the Jonestown Massacre occurs, people often jump to conclusions, and assume that those involved were merely soulless puppets; too stupid to see what was right in front of them. It’s easy to simplify such a horrible massacre to the most basic terms in order to process an act so terrible. In order to distance oneself from such deviance, a person who hears about the event might subconsciously and intuitively claim that the followers of a man like Jim Jones are just an ignorant band of misfits. We’d like to think that we could never participate in something so horrible, but the truth is, the capacity to fall into the depths of cult activity is within all of us. All it takes is circumstance to flip a switch, and head down a much darker path than we could have ever imagined.Ti West’s newest film, ‘The Sacrament’, gracefully demonstrates the motives behind peoples’ actions in new religious movements. What starts out as a film seemingly about the horror of religion, ends by demonstrating that the terror doesn’t lie in the thousand year-old scripture, but rather, in those who interpret it with an ulterior agenda. West’s latest work is arguably his most fascinating yet, due to its honest and merciless nature. Instead of attacking religion, it sheds light on the reality behind cult activity, and explores individuals’ reasons for leaving behind all of their worldly possessions, just to follow the orders and advice of one man, undoubtedly, no matter the costs. The most shocking element within the film isn’t a religious deity, but a person, Father, who claims to have a special connection with the higher being. As the movie suggests, tastefully and accurately, the most terrifying aspect of any dangerous situation is the element of human behavior, and the power it can hold over others, especially when using a tool as influential as religion. The delicate handling of this intriguing and taboo subject matter, along with powerful performances by the cast, especially Gene Jones’s portrayal as Father, combine to create West’s best feature to date.