Rarely have I ever watched a film where I kept saying to myself ‘why did they make this film?’—but I found myself thinking this repeatedly as I watched The Sacrament.  It’s a shame, as the quality of the film was actually pretty high—but the choice of subject matter made absolutely no sense whatsoever and I really cannot see folks wanting to see this movie—at least I hope they don’t.  I know I certainly cannot recommend it.

When The Sacrament began, I thought it was a variation on the story of Jonestown—where the basic idea of Jim Jones and the Guyana tragedy of the 1970s might have inspired the filmmakers.  However, aside from changed names and having the film take place in modern times, it IS the Jonestown massacre re-enacted for the camera. Who wants to see this?!

The Sacrament
Written & Directed by
Ti West
Joe Swanberg, , AJ Bowen, Kate Lyn Sheil, Amy Seimetz
Release Date
1 May 2014
Martin’s Grade: D

Now I do understand a dramatization, such as Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones—this was a very good picture that was made for TV about the life of Jones which included the mass killing and suicides as part of a larger story.  And, I understand documentaries about it, such as the exceptionally well made Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple.  But what I don’t understand is changing a few names and simply re-enacting this awful tragedy for the camera–as well as showing us just about EVERYTHING!!  Yes, if you see this film you’ll not only see folk drinking poison and dying in foaming convulsions but you’ll also be treated to seeing the Jim Jones-like leader shoot himself in the head up close as well as one of his more rabid followers lighting herself on fire!!  And there are gallons and gallons of realistic blood, dead children and a mother slicing her little girl’s throat!

To me it didn’t feel like a documentary or fictionalization but more of a snuff film that somehow might excite some sick viewers.  Me, it just made me made.  Mad that they could exploit the tragedy and mad that they didn’t change the script to make it INSPIRED by Jonestown—making it different in some ways.  But, aside from a few less victims and a modern setting, it IS the Jonestown killings and suicides.  And who wants to see that?!

It’s really a shame.  The actors actually did a very nice job and the footage appears like hastily filmed stuff you’d typically see in a so-called ‘lost footage’ film.  So, at least technically it is well done.  But, unfortunately, so are the killings—too well done.

It’s rare I say this, but this is one of the few films I have reviewed that I strongly recommend you don’t watch and especially let kids see it.  It just hits too close to home and seems very exploitive and creepy.

Review by Lead Entertainment Writer & Film Critic, Martin Hafer

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