Found Footage Fatigue

"The Sacrament" riffs on the Jonestown massacre, but not terribly well

Oh, for the love of God, will these found-footage horror movies ever stop? Dammit ... I am getting sick to death of these things!

The found footage scary movie gimmick stopped being novel after about 14 minutes of The Blair Witch Project. There have been some good ones, including Cloverfield and the recently released vampire twist, Afflicted. But for every good one, there are 10 bad ones, including most of the Paranormal Activity movies and Bobcat Goldthwait's recently released and truly awful Bigfoot take, Willow Creek.

Now comes The Sacrament, a sloppy riff on the Jonestown Massacre. No, it's not a total retelling of the Jim Jones '70's true horror story, where a large group of people following Jones drank poisoned fruit drink in an act of mass suicide. It's a film "inspired" by those true events, and placed in a modern setting. As for the quality of the movie, I'll place it somewhere squarely in the middle of the found footage movie pack. It's not terrible, but it is a certain distinct, stank level of bad.

The setup has a news team heading for a remote (Hey, that's why they will be carrying cameras at all times!), unknown location after Patrick (Kentucker Audley) gets an invite from his sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz). The team also includes head reporter Sam (AJ Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg).

As soon as they approach the gates of Eden, the kooky compound where Caroline resides, they are greeted with hostility and machine guns. This is normally where most dudes would say "Screw this!," get back on their helicopter, and get back to the States, but there's a stupid movie to had here, so they follow Caroline into further weirdness.

The compound is run by a mysterious, zealot figure called Father (Gene Jones). Father agrees to be interviewed by Sam at a big party held in the news team's honor. The interview doesn't go well, and things start to deteriorate quickly.

Too much happens too fast in the movie, with Father ordering up a mass suicide because he feels threatened by the news team he invited to visit. The parallel with the actual Jim Jones is undeniable, but the way the tragedy is depicted here comes off as very shallow and sloppy. The Father character is extremely underdeveloped, although Gene Jones is sort of interesting in the role.

And, of course, no matter what kind of horrors are occurring, somebody always stops to pick up a camera and get everything on film. This happens even when the camera operators' lives are being threatened. They do a pretty good job capturing stuff when their lives are at stake, keeping the action fairly centered and in focus. This would be the single most grating aspect of found-footage horror. Somebody facing death would never stop to make sure everything is in focus, centered, etc.

The film is directed by Ti West, who has been making a name for himself with effective, low budget horror like The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil. While West has made some keepers, he's also responsible for stuff Like Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever. The Sacrament falls more in line with that limp garbage rather than his more successful efforts. It's a shame to see an impressive talent like West wasting his time in found footage.

Besides the fact that the gimmick is tired, the actual horror of the real Jonestown massacre far surpasses anything West's fictional film can dream up. Any of the many documentaries about the massacre pack a much more horrific wallop than The Sacrament. If you have ever heard the recordings of Jones leading his congregation to death, you have heard true horror.

As for this movie, you can take a pass. I was convinced years ago that the found footage movies would go the way of the dodo. At this point, here in 2014, it appears these sad, ridiculous efforts are popping up en masse like maggots on rotted meat. The only thing scary about them is that they will seemingly never stop, even if you pour gasoline on them and set them ablaze.

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