Coming from Shawn Ewert, director of Jack's Bad Day and Property Lines and featuring The Texas Chain Saw Massacre veteran the late Marilyn Burns, Sacrament's trailer hinted at a film with a message and gleefully black sense of humour.
Was this really the case? Read on...
Was this really the case? Read on...
Dir: Shawn Ewert
Starring: Troy Ford, Avery Pfeiffer, Brittany Badali, Cassandra Hierholzer, Wesley Kimenyi, Amanda Rebholz, Hugo Martinez, Henry Pao, Marilyn Burns, Ed Guinn, Richard Houghton, Joshua Cole Simmons, Cory Ahre, Larry Jack Dotson
SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I’ll try not to spoil too much here, but read on at your own risk.
The film follows a couple of separate storylines as a group of friends, including couple Lee (Ford) and Blake (Pfeiffer) head out on a cross country trip for a holiday. When a storm-warning details their plans, the youngsters find themselves stranded in a small town by the name of Middle Spring which is just about to have an annual celebration.
The small town folks are kind, softly-spoken and devoutly Christian — but they have a way of dealing with those who don't share their ideals and principles. We witness this first hand when dropout Jason (Ahre) is abducted while attempting to do a good deed. As Jason's situation grows more desperate and he is put through the wringer in his attempts to escape, we are given more insight into the townsfolk's plans... And the delicious barbecue they serve.
BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning):
The thing I most want praise Sacrament for is the mature way in which it treats its lead characters. The genre is not too well known for depicting minorities, especially gays in the best light. Stereotypes are all too common, but in Lee and Blake we are given a natural depiction of homosexuality. It is refreshing see two well-rounded characters whose role is not simply defined by the fact that they are attracted to men.
This was definitely helped the performances of Ford and Pfeiffer, who each brought their characters to life. Along with Pao's fun-loving but lonely Alex and the town's sinister sheriff (Dotson), these guys showed some real talent.
The film made some fascinating points, giving us a clear and strong message about the dangers of religious intolerance, yet it kept it fun with some serious splatter and gruesome effects work. Despite the clearly limited budget with which Sacrament was produced, it manages to hit the spot with its gore shots, so more power to Hobbes LeCompte and Matthew Ash who worked on them.
These gore effects were highly evident in the subplot featuring Jason's escape from his pursuers. As he gets put through trial after trial, it all too easy to root for him, even if you're secretly eager to see what Ewert and co have in store for him next. It adds an element of unpredictable black humour to the proceedings that really enlivens the film.
Ewert is clearly a talented filmmaker. Sacrament is a story told in an assured manner and shot fantastically.
Furthermore, the film kind of acts as a Texas Chain Saw Massacre reunion by casting both Burns and Guinn. Awesome!
Finally, I want to praise the fantastic opening credits sequence. Using an old hymn over unsettling religious practices, it really set the scene for the madness to follow. Great work guys!
WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning):
There's no escaping it — Sacrament is a very low budget effort. With that comes certain restrictions. The film doesn't look as glossy as the big studio efforts and is decidedly rough around the edges in places. Not so much that it affects your enjoyment of the movie, but if you're a relative indie virgin and used to the polished likes of The Conjuring or Insidious, you should be prepared.
Also while some of the cast are very good, some others don't quite match up to their standards. Most are capable to very good, but there are a couple that come across as decidedly amateur at times. As with the look of the film, this is probably inevitable in a lower budget indie horror and thankfully, never becomes such a serious problem that it ruins the film. Besides, in a film where we have a bonafide horror icon like Burns, it seems a little mean to complain about any of the cast!
On a similar note, the characters aren't all as well fleshed out as Lee and Blake, with a couple of their friends and especially the Middle Spring townsfolk feeling rather one-note. Oh well, unfortunately there's only so much screentime and not every character can have a detailed and lengthy arc. I felt a little disappointed that Burns didn't have more to do, but a little goes a long way in this case!
Finally, it felt a little like the ending ran away with itself and lost a little focus. A lot of plotpoints come to a head at once, so this is understandable, especially when there seems to be a suggestion that a sequel could be on the way. The ending is still satisfying, but if you want the entire story wrapped up in a neat bow, this may leave you looking for a little more.
VERDICT: Low-budget but great fun, Sacrament is a rare thing — a splatter flick with a message. It is both tremendously entertaining and extremely witty. It combines gore, social commentary and even some twisted laughs to tremendous effect. The indie horror scene has churned out a steady stream of gems this year and I'm delighted to say that Shawn Ewert's Sacrament is another strong recommendation from me. Do check it out.
It is currently touring the festival circuit, including the UK's upcoming Horror-on-Sea Festival so get yourselves along. If you can’t make that, you can find out where else you can catch it at the film's official website or check its Facebook page. Be sure to Like it while you're there to help spread the word.
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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.