We partly have No Country for Old Men to thank for the effectiveness of The Sacrament. The Coen brothers brilliantly staged and then subverted the usual scene where the villain murders an innocent bystander. Javier Bardem stands in front of the counter of a dingy gas station to pay for corn nuts, or whatever he’s eating. Sunflower seeds? Pistachios? It’s one of the great mysteries of No Country for Old Men. With their keen and sometimes derisive eye for casting common folk, the Coen brothers put on the other side of the counter an avuncular kindly actor named Gene Jones. You think you’ve seen him in a thousand other movies as a character actor playing bit parts. You haven’t. It was his first movie. His bewildered sincerity is every bit as crucial to the story of this moment as Bardem’s menace. It’s two actors, working together, shepherded by talented directors, creating an iconic scene.
Jones is the driving force in The Sacrament. It’s as if Ti West saw No Country for Old Men and pondered how to build a movie around Jones’ sincerity, but approaching it from a different angle. Literally, in one scene. As Jones is being interviewed, he doesn’t play to the camera, even though this is a found footage movie in which all the characters have camera awareness. He instead plays to a different direction, a direction that says everything about his character, about the events, about what is going to happen. And as is the case with many effective horror movies, The Sacrament works best if you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Unfortunately, what’s going to happen is a scaled down version of what already happened. Presumably for budgetary reasons, The Sacrament lives up to 10% of the events that inspired it, the events it updates and recreates almost beat for beat, the events it follows so slavishly that the exceptions jut out awkwardly, as if they were glued on by West and his found footage approach. But for that 10%, Jones’ presence makes it all worthwhile.
The Sacrament is out now on video on demand. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.