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TIFF 2013: The Sacrament (2013)

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For the most part, Ti West’s latest outing “The Sacrament” avoids falling back on the tired, stereotypical ploys that have given the genre a bad reputation as of late. It’s an attempt at something different, an experiment that at the very least is respectable for simply daring to try something new. It’s a breath of fresh air for those of us who’ve been drowning amidst the congested, diluted, uninspired, synthetic blood-filled cesspool that modern horror has become. That being said, I expected nothing less from West who has slowly worked his way to becoming one of the brightest, most inventive, well-versed saviours of the genre. Granted, “The Sacrament” may fit better under the “thriller” label, even if it is only to satisfy the occasional horror die-hard. Nonetheless, this slow-burning walk through hell provides the tension, turbulence, and terror you’d expect from the creator of “The Innkeepers” and “The House of the Devil.”

PLOT:

Jake (Swanberg), Sam (Bowen), and Patrick (Audley) are correspondents for a news affiliate known as Vice. One day, when Patrick receives a strange letter from his sister Caroline (Seimetz), who lives in a sober community as part of her rehab. The three decide to investigate the story surrounding the settlement from which the letter originated. Upon arriving, the group is stunned to see the beauty, serenity, and wholesomeness radiating from the community. However, upon realizing that the settlement has an intelligent, persuasive, charismatic leader whom the people call “Father.” The investigators soon come to understand that everything is not as it appears and that their lives might be in terrible danger.

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Today, where a majority of the genre falters, Ti West and his films, such as “The Sacrament,” impress. It seems nowadays that horror flicks and their creators try their best to separate themselves from any connection to past or present filmmakers and films. They conjure up their own unique premise or murder weapon and simply try to one-up their peers. What this leads to is an intriguing, entertaining first-half to a film that will eventually wind up resorting to cliches and a hackneyed finale. Yet, so far in his career, West seemingly has no problem with being the one to tidy up the genre. His flicks evoke a wonderful sense of nostalgia and lovingly embrace the homage label bestowed upon them. He willingly trades in the buckets of gore, which are currently a standard-issue to all horror filmmakers, for genuine fright, tense situations, and eerie sounds or objects. This is precisely the type of old-school terror you can expect with West’s latest outing. Except, much like his other full-length features, it brandishes a satisfying twist.

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Now, there might not be anything overly original about the style and story West has chosen to utilize in “The Sacrament.” For example. It’s premise orbits around a few journalists who travel a long way to investigate a secluded, cult-like community… essentially nothing we haven’t heard or seen before. Even the found-footage format used to unveil the film’s events is something that’s been eccentrically used and dulled over time. However, while the techniques and tactics employed by West aren’t unheard of or by any means revolutionary. The way in which West manages and manipulates them is anything but conventional. Through the hand-held camera, West better encapsulates the spontaneity, authenticity, and disheartening horror of this faux-documentary. And the moments when you feel as if the scenarios are unfolding right in front of you just further attest to West’s ingenuity and prowess when it comes to handling these common facets.

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The film itself bares a striking resemblance to the 1978 massacre at the settlement of Jonestown, in which 918 people died of cyanide poisoning. The events that took place are widely recognized, however, whether or not the massacre was a mass murder or mass suicide is still very much up for debate. While “The Sacrament” does share similarities with this terribly unfortunate tragedy, West seems to have merely used it as a motivational tool, inspiration if you will. Although some of you may consider this information to be somewhat of a spoiler, I beg to differ. Where the film and its apparent counterpart line up is nothing compared to where the two differentiate. I am simply stating the commonalities between fact and fiction. If you happened to read up on the film at all, the shared traits are fairly obvious…but I digress. If this topic has peeked your interest, I suggest reading into the Jonestown Massacre in preparation for the film.

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Guiding the viewer through this self-proclaimed utopia are some familiar faces. The cast of “The Sacrament” features Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, AJ Bowen, and Gene Jones. And everyone, with the exception of Gene Jones has worked with Ti West on another film in some way. So the chemistry between the cast and director is plentiful and undeniable. Bowen and Swanberg lead the way and maintain the viewers gazes like a magnet, as if they are holding our hand, waking us through and protecting us from harm. The duo is remarkably fascinating to watch as they stroll warily amongst the calm uneasiness, radiating this feeling of impending chaos. Gene Jones, without any doubt gives the best performance. His portrayal of the mentally unstable, abusive, persuasive community leader is hypnotic. You’ll slowly begin to feel yourself gravitate towards his inviting, albeit insane notions, it’s supremely effective. Seimetz is equally as seductive. Her demeanour and beliefs are contagious. Overall, the ensemble really sells the premise and fully deliver unnerving obliviousness.

Despite trailing off into a few familiar, bloody tendencies towards the end. Ti West’s “The Sacrament” is chilling, horrifying, and down-right entertaining.

The Sacrament: 8 out of 10.

TIFF 2013 Releases Schedule and Final Announcements

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We are now less than two weeks away from when the Toronto International Film Festival tickets go on sale to the public and a mere 16 days away from the start of the actual festivities. On Tuesday morning, another slew of films were announced along with the schedule itself and a long list of celebrities set to attend the festival. I don’t know about you, but the anticipation is overwhelming me. I suppose the nervousness and excitement will dissipate somewhat when I actually know what screenings I will be attending, or it could skyrocket even higher. Either way, this is shaping up to be one hell of a festival!

Schedule:

Now, for those attending, or those simply who’d like to know what’s going on and when, you can find the full schedule by clicking here.

FInal Film List and Programmes:

If you’d like to know what films are playing at the festival, you can click here for the entire list or click the TIFF button in the main menu at the top of this page. You can also find all the programmes offered by the festival by clicking here. Essentially, all films screening at the festival are divided into groups for attendees to better understand what type of genre and themes the film will contain.

TIFF Guests:

Perhaps the most exciting news released Tuesday morning was the endless list of celebrities ready to attend the festival. Amongst the names are Benedict Cumberbatch, Meryl Streep, Rebecca Hall, Josh Broliin, Alan RIckman, Clive Owen, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Aniston, Mark Ruffalo, Elizabeth Olsen, Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Tom Hiddleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nicholas Cage, Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, Ben Foster, Anton Yelchin, Liam Neeson, James McAvoy, Nicole Kidman, Felicity Jones, Ed Harris, Spike Jonze, Melissa George, Paul Giamatti, Idris Elba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah Gadon, Colin Firth, Michael Fassbender, Jesse Eisenberg, Sandra Bullock, Chris Hemsworth, Mila Kunis, Jessica Chastain, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, Mia Waikowska, Owen Wilson, Steve McQueen, Jason Reitman, Keanu Reeves, Keira Knightley, Matthew McConaughey, Ti West, Eli Roth, Daniel Radcliffe, Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson, Oliva Wilde, Mike Myers, James Franco, Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard, and Thandie Newton, just to name what I feel to be the most important. And honestly, I couldn’t type any more names. There is a bunch more on the list you can find here. Also, these are just the people confirmed thus far, it is expected that the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt, amongst others will be attending.

Jason Reitman’s Live Read:

You can find all the information below, provided by the TIFF website.

The Festival proudly welcomes back Jason Reitman’s Live Read — a unique event in which classic movie scripts are read by contemporary actors. With no rehearsal, the actors come together for a one-take read-through with Reitman narrating stage direction. In 2012, the Festival welcomed Reitman and an all-star cast — including Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Adam Driver, Sarah Gadon and George Stroumboulopoulos — for a live table read of Alan Ball’s screenplay for American Beauty. This year, Reitman is back with a surprise script from a modern classic and a new cast at the Ryerson Theatre on Friday, September 6. Details, including cast and script, for the 2013 Live Read event will be announced in early September.

IMAX Screenings:

New this year, audiences are invited to be part of the action with two official Festival selections and two special screenings presented in spectacular IMAX. The two films will be Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” and Keanu Reeves “Man of Tai Chi.”

Next Wave and Manifesto Announced:

You can find another plethora of titles announced by clicking here.

New Galas and Special Presentations:

Metallica Through the Never: Nimród Antal, Canada/USA, World Premiere

Dane DeHaan (The Place Beyond the Pines) stars as a Metallica roadie dispatched to hell and back in this mind-blowing mash-up of concert film and post-apocalyptic adventure, presented in IMAX 3D.

The Wizard of Oz: Victor Fleming, USA, World Premiere

Experience Judy Garland’s over-the-rainbow adventure in vivid new detail with this IMAX 3D presentation of Victor Fleming’s family classic.

10th Midnight Madness Film Unveiled:

Witching & Bitching:

Fleeing through the impenetrable forests of the Basque countryside after a jewel heist, a hapless band of robbers runs afoul of a coven of witches, in this madcap supernatural spectacle from Spanish genre specialist Alex de la Iglesia (The Last Circus).

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Okay then, that’ll do it for the pre-TIFF announcements. The Cinema Monster will be covering the festival in full, providing reviews, news, and Q and A’s as often as possible, make sure to follow our website to keep up with the festival. Also, follow The Cinema Monster on Twitter (@cinema_monster) and Facebook for up-to-the-minute news and posts, not to mention special pictures and videos provided by me from the screenings. Have a great week!

TIFF 2013 Unleashes Midnight Madness Lineup, Docs, and Vanguard:

We are a little over a month away from opening night at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, the Toronto International Film Festival. Last week was a treat as the first 75 films were announced, including galas and special presentations. Now, it’s fair to say that the films presented last week were are a little more serious and dramatic, those hoping to generate Oscar buzz and compete for the “people’s choice award.” The films announced last night however, are much more easygoing.

Around midnight (fitting), TIFF unveiled its lineup for what is quickly becoming the festivals most notable, fun, and bizarre sub-competition, Midnight Madness! Which hosts films ranging from horror, thriller, dark comedies, and oh so much more. This yearly tradition celebrates filmmaking that stretches the human psyche, tests the viewers tolerance level, and essentially weeds out the weak cinephiles from the tough. This will be the 25th anniversary of Midnight Madness and this year’s line-up is an outstanding gift to the public. Check out the all the Midnight Madness films here. Below you’ll find what I believe to be the highlights!

“The Green Inferno” (2013, Eli Roth).

Horror maestro Eli Roth (Hostel) returns to the director’s chair for this gruesome homage to the notorious Italian cannibal movies of the late seventies and early eighties.

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“Rigor Mortis” (2013, Juno Mak).

A public-housing tenement is plunged into a dark storm of supernatural chaos, in this loving tribute to the cult classic Hong Kong horror-comedy series Mr. Vampire.

Next up, is Vanguard! Described as “Provocative, sexy… possibly dangerous. This is what’s next.” You can check out all the films announced for Vanguard here. Below you’ll once again find what I believe to be the highlights of this section.

“The Sacrament” (2013, Ti West).

Inspired by the infamous mass suicide of Peoples Temple cultists at Jonesetown, Guyana, the latest film from indie genre icon Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) sends frequent collaborators AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg and Kentucker Audley on a harrowing journey into madness and messianic bloodshed.

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“Horns” (2013, Alexander Aja).

Blamed for the brutal murder of his longtime girlfriend (Juno Temple), a small-town guy (Daniel Radcliffe) awakens one morning to find a pair of horns growing from his head, in this offbeat supernatural thriller from horror ace Alexandre Aja (Haute tensionPiranha 3D).

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FInally, for those of you interested, you can find all the Documentaries premiering at TIFF here. It isn’t my cup of tea so I’m not really sure what the highlights are. If you happen to be a documentary enthusiast, be sure to let me know what you think of the selection in the comments section below.

Okay all, that’ll do it for this announcement. I didn’t think it was possible for me to become more enthusiastic and aching with anticipation after the first set of announcements, but I’ve been proven wrong. The horror crop looks terrific at TIFF this year and I’m really looking forward to checking them all out at the festival. Remember, The Cinema Monster is your number 1 source for TIFF news and reviews!  Be sure to follow me on Twitter @cinema_monster or on Facebook here for up to the minute news. Please comment below on the selection for the festival already presented and let me know which films you are most excited to see. Have a great week!

V/H/S (2012)

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Striking a strategic balance between its finely interwoven segments. V/H/S revives the steadily declining form of found footage in horror with gloom, grit, and gore. With a wide variety of scares ranging from paranormal to psychological. V/H/S has no shortage of disturbing originality. Throwing in a few sequences with that classic horror feel and a sustained fluidity of fresh, terrifying monstrosities. The directors leave the audience licking their chops, foaming at the mouth for the next nightmare to unveil itself in all of its bloodthirsty glory. Discarding most of the inevitable dissatisfying moments that hamper most anthologies. V/H/S has very little letdown from thread to thread. Featuring shorts directed by Ti West, Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, and the quartet known as Radio Silence. V/H/S has no problem getting all of its toxic minds onto the same page.

Amateur Night: 7 out of 10.

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Three friends rent a hotel room with intentions of bringing woman back to have sex with. They have rigged one of their friends glasses with a hidden camera so they can capture all of their exploits. Travelling from bar to bar, the group finally discover a few girls willing to hang out with them named Lily and Lisa. Throughout the night, Lily continuously mutters “I like you”  to Clint, one of the three friends. When they return to the hotel room, Lisa passes out from the heavy drinking. What ensues when Lily reveals her true self is unbelievably terrifying.

Second Honeymoon: 6.5 out of 10.

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Sam and Stephanie are a married couple who head out west for their second honeymoon. After renting out a sleazy motel room, the couple attend various local attractions. On the first night, a mysterious girl knocks on their motel room door and asks for a ride the next day. In the middle of the night, someone breaks into their motel room and records herself as she rubs a switchblade over Stephanie’s thigh. Returning to the motel after visiting a canyon during the day, the two head to sleep. That night, the woman enters the room again.

Tuesday the 17th: 6.5 out of 10.

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Three friends, Joey, Spider, and Samantha accompany their new friend Wendy on a camping trip. As Wendy leads them through the woods, she tells them that her friends were killed by a murderer last year in this forest. Brushing it off as a joke, the group proceeds to have a relaxing weekend. But when Wendy tells them she has lead them here so she can capture the murderer, things take a turn for the worse.

The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger: 8 out of 10.

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Emily and her boyfriend James video chat consistently. One night, Emily complains of a strange bump on her arm that reminds her of a similar incident when she was younger. When strange occurrences begin to happen in her apartment, Emily claims it to be haunted. Later, Emily begins to dig under her skin with a scalpel. When the disturbances occur more violently and frequently, Emily seeks James for assistance in a matter that is getting out of hand.

10/31/98: 7.5 out of 10.

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Chad, Matt, Tyler, and Paul are dressed up for Halloween and ready to attend a party. When they arrive at the house, it appears to be deserted. However, they manage to sneak in to the house. As bizarre events and paranormal hallucinations begin to occur, the group think it to be a practical joke. As things become more serious and frightening, the group makes a startling discover that threatens their existence.

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As you start to feel those tiny droplets of sweat trickle down your forehead and cheeks, squint your eyes a bit to soften the blow of being shocked, and begin to get the jitters through your extremities, that’s when you realize the animosity of V/H/S. It may not be as potent as some of the top end, great, or even classic horror films. But for its low budgeted, inventive complexity, V/H/S has plenty of fright and makes good use of every second of screen time.

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Wether it’s a penis being tossed at the camera, hands reaching out from the walls, or a living glitch, V/H/S delivers the scares and balance most horror anthologies can only have nightmares about.

V/H/S: 7 out of 10.

The Innkeepers (2011)

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Every horror fan should take notice of Ti West now, so there are no regrets later down the road. The Innkeepers, West’s most recent full length feature is a paranormal voyage into human sanity. The film stars Sara Paxton (The Last House On the Left), Pat Healy (Rescue Dawn), and Kelly McGillis (Top Gun).

Claire (Paxton) and Luke (Healy) are the only two remaining employees at the Yankee Pedlar Inn. The Inn is nearing it’s final days and Claire and Luke are trying desperately to capture real proof of the Inn’s haunted past. As the days near the end, disturbing and unexplainable events begin to happen. As time goes on, the events become more serious and begin to take a toll on Claire and Luke.

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West is quickly asserting himself as a force to be reckoned with in the horror community. Directing not only two films considered to be included in the best horror films of the past five years (The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers), West has also contributed to the recent horror anthologies The ABC’s of Death and V/H/S. I will have reviews for both of those anthologies out soon. Sara Paxton gives one of the most likeable character performances worthy of the audiences empathy in recent memory. Paxton and Healy portray a legitimate friendship and the deterioration of not only themselves, but also of their relationship. The tension created by the films deliberate pace causes genuine havoc and fear to take control of the audience. There is a scene 5-10 minutes in length of an EVP recording session that will shred your nerves. If you come into this film expecting buckets of blood and an excess of gore you will surely be disappointed. The Innkeepers sets out to keep you up at night out of terror, not nausea and vomiting. To throughly enjoy The Innkeepers, shut off all the lights, curl up in the fetal position and sweat it out, alone if you dare.

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The Innkeepers: 6.5 out of 10.