MAYBE IT WAS a fluke. In 2009, when Ti West wrote and directed The House of the Devil, he hit a fine balance, both paying homage to the classic horror-movie tropes of the '70s and '80s and making a spooky film. For a moment, it seemed we had a director who could carry on the fine traditions of doomed babysitting gigs and spine-tightening floorboard creaks without resorting to camp. But then West's 2011 follow-up, The Innkeepers, came and went (it's a film best described, as it was to me by one downcast young horror fan, as "not very legit"), and now here's The Sacrament—bringing with it our last flagging hope for earnest horror.
Though it never says so, West's The Sacrament is little more than a retelling of the Jonestown Massacre story, but repackaged as one of those cheesy "found footage" deals and set in present time. Adding insult to injury, The Sacrament is also dressed up as a faux Vice documentary—though the ostensibly Vice-employed characters are so un-cynical that one wonders what exposure West actually has had to Vice.
Even worse, The Sacrament adds nothing to one of the most legitimately terrifying episodes in modern history: The acting and casting are poor, the flourishes flat, and the film's refusal to acknowledge its own source material feels like an attempt to exploit the ignorance of viewers too young to catch the reference. The pace is slower than most horror joints, but the experience isn't one of boredom so much as a slowly settling disappointment as the film dumbly stumbles toward its inevitable Kool-Aid.
To The Sacrament's credit, the final scenes are legitimately disturbing—however cheap their thrill, they ring with more enthusiasm than those that precede them. It's not worth the slog, though: actual documentation of Jonestown is scarier and more worthwhile.