In the name of full disclosure, I have to say here that I donated to the “Sacrament” crowdfunding effort. I got a t-shirt. Additionally, I know Shawn Ewert. Shawn Ewert is a friend of mine and you sir, are no Shawn Ewert.
A road trip (or roadtrip if you’re butting up against your character count on Twitter) can be many things. It can be a rite of passage, it can be the precursor to fun and adventure, it can be the journey or it can be the destination or it can be the death of you as is the case in “Sacrament”.
The film opens with a young man stopping to help an older gentleman broken down on the side of the road. But as know, no good deed goes unpunished and the helpful fellow is clubbed into oblivion as we cut into a lengthy title sequence. We then pick up with a group of friends, Lee (Troy Ford) and Blake (Avery Pfeiffer), Alex (Henry Pao), Lorri (Amanda Rebholz), Jennifer (Brittany Badali), Jeff (Wesley Kimenyi) and Shell (Cassandra Heirholzer) as they gear up for a debauched excursion to the coast. Instead, they end up in Middle Spring, Texas – a town plucked out of one of Pat Robertson’s fondest wish-dreams – where they “take the body and the blood quite literally.”
The debut feature from writer and director Shawn Ewert feels a little like one part “2000 Maniacs” and one part “Children of the Corn” with it’s tale of strangers wandering into a small insular community with deadly results. And while that may sound remarkably said, Ewert puts a fresh spin on it by having a gay couple as his main protagonists. Has it been done before? Yes, but in a great many of the genre films to feature gay characters, they are played either as caricatures or simply for prurient thrills. Ford and Pfeiffer, who play our happy couple, come across fully formed characters not just as curiosities to be pointed at. Performance-wise, they do a good job though each has the occasional wooden moments. But hey, it’s an indie film – it’s to be expected. It’s also expected for genre greats to be… well, great. Here, you have Marilyn Burns (in her final screen performance) and Ed Guinn (both of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre) in small parts but they infuse them with a wonderful realism. The rest of the cast hold thing up well with nary a hiccup.
However, while the cast pases muster, the pacing leaves something to be desired. There are four or five scenes, ranging in length anywhere from 30 seconds to close to two minutes, where they have a montage that just brings the film’s forward motion to a complete stop. These do nothing to advance the plot or develop the characters. In addition, they include one of my pet peeves: an opening credit sequence. In my opinion, unless you have a Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp, no one cares who’s in an indie movie. A three minutes credit sequence – when you could be telling your story – is downright wasteful. Any other weaknesses fall generally into the category of your typical indie film bugaboos.
All in all, “Sacrament” is a fine first feature for Ewert. While certainly imperfect, you get a new perspective on a familiar path.
RATINGS (ON A SCALE OF 1-5)
Technical: 3 – As with most micro-budget films, you have to turn a blind eye to numerous shortcomings. It’s well shot though occasionally not perfectly lit. It’s well acted mostly with a few clinkers. The pacing is problematic. It’s longer than it has to be.
Gore: 3 – Much of it is relegated to small wounds but there’s some dismemberment, flaying and evisceration mixed in. Also, hooks.
Horror: 2 – Not in your face scary. The film builds up to obvious gore but not any real scares.
The B-Factor: 3.5 – It falls pretty squarely into B-film territory with its requisite stereotypes, blood and nudity (both flavors).
Overall: 3 – “Sacrament” takes you down the well-traveled back roads of horror. A serviceable indie throwback.