Michael vs. Thomas: THE SACRAMENT and TORMENT
Michael Rich and our Editor-in-Chief love horror films and hate each other. In the spirit of the great horror face-offs of history, they’ll be going toe-to-toe in the ring and covering the horror films of Netflix in Michael vs. Thomas.
Logline: He promised followers a Heaven on Earth, but when a camera crew steps inside his cult-like commune, there’s hell to pay.
Thomas: While I enjoyed the maturity of THE SACRAMENT (no awful dialogue for once), I found it glacially paced and, overall, not scary in the slightest.
Michael: THE SACRAMENT is a little slow. I’ll give you that. However, like Ti West’s other slow-burning films (namely THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL), I felt constantly on edge and a terrible sense of dread. It’s not scary in the traditional, jumpscare-heavy sense, but it’s definitely unsettling.
Thomas: I feel that any sense of foreboding or dread was ruined by the fact that it wore its Jonestown imagery so blatantly on its sleeve. If we already knew how it was going to end, doesn’t that make it more of a tired exercise in getting to the finish line?
Michael: Yes, the audience knows how it’s going to end in a general sense. But you can make that argument about any movie based on a real event. What I didn’t know was how/if these characters I was invested in were going to make it out of there. And I was still caught off guard by how horrifically West staged the mass suicide.
Thomas: Eh, for me, considering that I’ve browsed pictures of Jonestown and listened to the audio recordings, I wasn’t moved. But, on the note of the characters, did you find the potential of the VICE narrative wasted? I was looking forward to a commentary on the ambiguous ethics of journalism (i.e., the aftermath of them releasing their footage).
Michael: Everybody’s gotta have a hobby, I guess… Anyway, I thought the VICE setup was a great way to explain why the hell the characters were filming, which is always my biggest complaint about found footage. It also added a layer of authenticity with VICE being a real news organization. I do agree that they could’ve delved deeper into the morality of what they were filming.
Thomas: I’m going to stick with my verdict of “Do Not Recommend.” All it made me want to see is a proper treatment of the Jonestown narrative. As it stands, I find it too dramatic to be a horror film while simultaneously lacking the trapping of a thriller, landing it in a definitive grey area of entertainment
Michael: I’m sure eventually we’ll watch THE VEIL, another Jonestown-inspired horror film on Netflix, for this column. I think you’ll start to appreciate THE SACRAMENT after viewing that one. I’m giving THE SACRAMENT a “Recommend.” It’s a little slow to get going, but the payoff is worth it. Plus, Gene Jones is awesome as “Father.”
Logline: A family bonding trip to an isolated cottage in the woods. Darn! Psycho squatters have other ideas for family bonding.
Michael: I’ve avoided TORMENT on Netflix forever. The poster just gives off a ridiculous, C-grade horror vibe. I’m not going to lie. I was a little ticked that you were going to make me watch this. That said, it isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen.
Thomas: I had similar feelings regarding wanting to avoid it like the plague, which is why I forced us to watch it. I was somewhat pleasantly surprised, but can’t tell whether that’s because this is a film with any merit or because my expectations were so low. I guess I’m willing to admit I sort of cared about the characters? They hit a B-grade BABADOOK dynamic where I hated the son while at the same time I felt bad for him.
Michael: Fortunately, they write the kid out of the majority of the film. The entire movie is filled with spotty acting, but he’s rough at times. I’d lay some of the blame on the writing, though. There’s a ludicrous subplot in which he’s led to believe his father hates him.
Thomas: I thought that scene was the takeaway, actually! Much more tormenting than the, like, singular half-assed torture scene.
Michael: You mean the one where “Mr. Mouse” speaks in his gravelly, exaggerated killer voice? Seriously, why did they have him talk?
Thomas: Mr. Mouse himself was indeed painful, but no, the one where the dad has to tell his kid he hates him! That had to have tugged at the heartstrings at least a little.
Michael: I’m supposed to believe that this kid is so easily manipulated that he’d rather hang out with the dude wearing a filthy, blood-soaked mouse mask than his own father?
Thomas: Well, I spent the entire movie thinking that he wasn’t… playing with a full deck… but that’s perhaps a vein of commentary we shouldn’t explore. I guess I don’t have too many more salient points to make about the film. Not brutal enough for gorehounds, and only marginally better than its poster.
Michael: That’s not very politically correct, Thomas. To me, TORMENT is middle-of-the road. I jumped a few times and I think it’s shot decently. Will I ever watch it again? No. There are much better home invasion movies out there.