In retrospect, I suppose I wrote Holy Horror a bit prematurely. Back when I started writing it, I had thought that the Bible in horror wasn’t as common as I’ve since found it to be. I still stand by what I wrote, but I could’ve included a lot more movies that I’ve watched over the years since. The Sacrament is one of them. Based on the Jonestown massacre, the film sets the movie in the early twenty-tens. A reporter for VICE is going to find his sister who’s joined a religious commune in some unspecified country. In an effort to get him to join, she invited him to visit. She was unaware, however, that he brought another journalist and cameraman with him. The movie gives creepy vibes right away since they’re greeted at the helicopter landing site by men with guns. Eventually they’re allowed to enter.
“Father,” the leader of the commune bears a resemblance to Jim Jones and soon it’s clear where this is going. Along the way, however, Scripture gets quoted to justify their communal lifestyle. There are many fictional aspects thrown in—the young women seduce the journalist whose sister invited him. She makes no bones about saying they do it to convince him to stay. The camera crew is almost convinced that this is the paradise it claims to be, but they start getting requests for help. The writers clearly did their research on Jonestown since several details of the final weeks of the Peoples Temple are fictionalized here. The mass suicide is shown in graphic detail. The number of the dead, however, is only about a fifth of those who actually died in Guyana in 1978.
The movie clearly shows that the commune is problematic, but it also raises uneasy questions. If it weren’t for the murder of Leo Ryan, would Jonestown ever have happened? Probably, but the film shows “Father” making the point that nobody was being harmed. That’s belied by the introduction of an abused girl and the number of people who want to leave. It’s true of Jonestown that mind-control tactics were used and people weren’t permitted to leave, especially as Jones’ paranoia grew. The movie leaves the viewer wondering whether utopian communes can ever work, people being what they are. We crave our freedom, even when things look great. The movie condemns the exercise, but not so much that it leaves lingering doubts about whether, had things been different, it might’ve worked. And it would’ve worked, had I seen it earlier, for Holy Horror.