Escaping their city lives for the weekend, a group of friends pack their cars and head for the coast leaving their troubles behind. Travelling through the bible belt of the lone star state, a forced stopover in the quiet town of Middle Spring isn’t going to dampen their spirits. The local folk seem friendly enough and the revival’s in town hosting their annual cookout. But, times are lean for this remote flock and there’s no place for sinners at their table… Let the harvest begin my brothers and sisters.
If horror films are to be believed, whatever your destination, in America you will end up travelling the back roads and passing through close knit rural communities inhabited by sinister sweaty folk and oversized mamas boys. It’s the classic setup and without it we wouldn’t have The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jeepers Creepers, The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn… I could go on. This time around our group of friends (or ‘fodder’) fit the bill perfectly in the form of the sensible one, the pothead, the alternative one, the vicarious one, the African American one and you’d be forgiven for sighing “here we go again”. But wait, Sacrament is smarter than you think.
In his third feature, writer/director Shawn Ewert manages to swerve from the well trodden path somewhat, filling his landscape with enough colourful characters, raving religious loons and two story lines which overlap but never interact to keep the story fresh and the plot ticking along. This does leave less screen time for our main gang to develop their characters but inevitably, most of them won’t see the end credits so this is of little consequence. The side plot features a good Samaritan escaping the confines of a basement and a local mental facility with the ominous ‘Hunter’ in hot pursuit. But it isn’t until wrath avenging son of a preacher man, Brahm, goes all fire and brimstone that things really get moving.
It’s easy to see what’s being aimed for here and where the influences come from but despite the isolated back water rural setting, Sacrament never really evokes the masters of the genre mainly due to the lack of terror or over bearing sense of threat. Yes, there’s the obligatory family run gas station, crooked sheriff and skinny dipping friends who don’t return from the lake but most scenes are relatively playful, interspersed with gore in the name of Christian rite. But this isn’t a film hinged on its blood and guts which is commendably used sparingly but convincingly and the stall is set out early with a great hand shattering scene. Sadly, this is the highlight of that poor chap’s day…
I would like to think Sacrament is the horror film I would make – inventive and thought provoking albeit on a budget. Casting your lead characters as a gay couple (Troy Ford and Avery Pfeiffer) must be a first for this genre, sparking a moral dilemma for the Middle Spring congregation of literal sin eaters and highlighting the worst prejudices of religion. Hell, this bunch even considers vegetarianism a lack of faith!
Although at times I wished the plot would turn a darker corner, Sacrament has achieved what horror films need to do – it stays with you. The ending is clever, side swiping you just when you thought everything had ended on a flat note leaving you wanting more as some fates are left in the balance.
Ramblin Entertainment Rating? 3.5/6
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