Ti West is part of a cult of sorts. The director of chilling horror movies like The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil frequently collaborates with a close-knit bunch of similar-minded artists, including Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, and AJ Bowen, most recently in You’re Next. In The Sacrament, which debuts at next week’s Venice Film Festival before having its North American premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, West and his “mumblegore” crew take the harrowing journey into a Jonestown-style cult. Three magazine journalists (Swanberg, Bowen, and Kentucker Audley) visit a relative (Seimetz) at a religious commune, where the mysterious Father (Gene Jones) is the unchallenged leader. Like all infamous cult tales, it doesn’t end well.
“Jonestown is something that I’ve always been really fascinated by, because I don’t think a lot of people understand it,” says West, who wrote, directed, edited, and produced the movie. “The people who killed themselves were not mindless cult people in robes acting like brainwashed monsters. I wanted to depict a cult that wasn’t full of psychos. They are people that you’re like, ‘Well, I don’t want to live there, but I understand why they do. And let them do whatever they want.’ Of course, things go wrong, but I think that that understanding of the mentality is very important and I think it’s overlooked in most movies, especially horror movies, because everyone wants to get to the crazy sh-t.”
Still, expect plenty of crazy sh-t. The movie is also produced by Eli Roth, the madman behind Cabin Fever and Hostel. But West says Roth was the perfect collaborator and benefactor. “He wasn’t trying to make an Eli Roth movie through me,” he says. “He let me do my thing and he was very protective of, ‘This is Ti’s movie and let it be like that.’ It’s a very confrontational movie and it’s very horrific and it’s very dark. It’s different from what people might expect from me and something different from what people expect from Eli as well.”
As you likely guessed, those glasses in the poster belong to Father, the cult’s leader played by actor Gene Jones. You might remember Jones from his mesmerizing confrontation with Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men.
West was a fan of Jones’ performance in that film, but he cast him only after seeing a recent guest appearance that Jones had on Louie. “Gene was on that episode playing a pharmacist,” says West. “He’s in like one scene and he asks this old woman about her bowel movements and I was like, ‘That’s the guy.’”
Maybe Bardem’s Anton Chigurh is the one who got off easy.
A Worldview Entertainment film, The Sacrament does not have a distributor or release date.