Monday, September 29, 2014

"The Sacrament": Eli Roth and Ti West recreate Jonestown in a "current" horror trip

The 1978 Jonestown, Guyana massacre inspires a recent (2013) “found footage” horror film by Ti West (produced by Eli Roth), “The Sacrament”. Actually, the film delves into some moral questions.
Patrick (Kentucker Audley) is an attractive (presumably gay or bisexual) fashion photographer comfortably building his career in New York.  He has some connections to a tabloid media company, Vice, with journalist Sam (A.J. Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg). Patrick gets a mystery letter from his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz), asking him to come and visit her at an intentional community that seems to be in northern Brazil or some mystery location.  The trio has to fly and be taken to the commune without knowing where they are.
The place, Eden Parrish, is first presented as a paradise, where all the residents have sold all they have and given it to the community, run by Father (Gene Jones).  The story mentions the Internet and cell phones, which aren’t allowed here (or won’t work), so we know the tragic story is moved ahead about two or three decades.  Father holds a merriment party for the guests (who stay in bunks – who is “top” and “bottom”) and Sam debriefs him with “The Interview”.  Soon, a mute woman passes a note asking the guests to help them,  By now, the three visitors realize they are in the throes of a leftist religious cult, probably violent.  
When the gig is up, Father realizes he can’t let the men go back, and that the authorities will come looking for them.  So, just as in Jonestown, he arranges for everyone to commit suicide by drinking cyanide-laced Koolade. The rest of the film makes is watch which men get out of there with their lives and the hand-held footage, which they have filmed “secretly”.
The script poses moral questions: Sam wants to help others escape, and Jake doesn’t, saying at one point, “We’re not the Red Cross”.  Journalists, perched at a distance and claiming objectivity, sometimes are put in compromising positions, and of course may become targets of enemies who want to see them as potential combatants anyway.  (See review of “Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty”, on the “cf” blog, March 3, 2009.) 
The official site is here  (Magnet Releasing),  The film is now on Netflix Instant Play. 

The film was shot in Georgia and New York City.
There have been a few films about Jonestown, such as “Jonestown: The Life and Death of the People’s Temple” by Stanley Nelson for PBS (2006); “Escape from Jonestown” (2008, CNN), and “Jonestown: Paradise Lost” for the History Channel in 2006.

The film has no connection to Clive Barker’s 1996 novel about a gay wildlife photographer, and it would make an interesting film in its own right;  I read it in 1997. 
Picture (mine):  James River in Richmond, VA

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