The Sacrament ★★★★

The true story of the Jonestown massacre (upon which Ti West's THE SACRAMENT is loosely based), in which over 900 members of a Christian cult voluntarily committed suicide by drinking cyanide while under the sway of charismatic cult leader Jim Jones, was already the stuff of nightmares. While a fictional film can in no way approach the true horror of that event, THE SACRAMENT is a gripping and deeply disturbing horror thriller.

Sam (A.J. Bowen), Jake (Joe Swanberg), and Patrick (Kentucker Audler) play a trio of documentary filmmakers, who venture out to a secluded cult compound where Patrick's sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz), a recovering junkie, has become one of many fervent acolytes of a subtly sinister man whom they all call "Father" (Gene Jones). Sensing that something is not quite right here but at the same time disarmed by the cult members' seemingly genuine friendliness and hospitality, the filmmakers let up their guard...until a little girl passes them a note that says "Please help us."

While the film has been described as yet another "found footage" film, the description isn't quite accurate. Like END OF WATCH, it's more fair to say that it's an ordinary narrative film, that is seen part (but not all) of the time through the camera lenses of its characters.

All of the lead performances are strong (and it's a kick to see Bowen, Swanberg, and Seimetz reunited after last year's spectacular YOU'RE NEXT), but Gene Jones is phenomenal. It's a spellbindingly creepy performance, and he nails the combination of manipulative, ingratiating "charm" and oily, threatening menace beneath the surface that can prove hypnotic to the weak-willed.

There's a sequence during which Bowen's character interviews "Father," in front of his congregation, and it's a master class in how to gradually escalate tension during a scene, and thrilling in the way you see the tables slowly turn. From this point in the film on, it doesn't let up. Ratcheting up the tension and suspense to near-frenzy, THE SACRAMENT is quite a disturbing thrill ride.

After THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, THE INNKEEPERS, THE ROOST, TRIGGERMAN, and the "Second Honeymoon" segment of V/H/S, it's safe to say that Ti West is one of the most promising young horror filmmakers currently working (along with Adam Wingard and Jim Mickle). I can't wait to see where he goes from here.

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