Sacrilege (2017)

We’re not the most harshly critical bunch over here at Swampflix, especially when it comes to cheaply-produced genre pictures. If you’re looking for a brutal evisceration of a micro budget indie horror like Sacrilege, we just don’t have it in our hearts. Still, I cannot give the film a hearty recommendation either. This Louisiana-produced VOD cheapie is difficult to get behind, even for the most forgiving of schlock junkies, but it’s not without its merits either. The level of care that went into staging its various jump scares & haunted house-style set pieces, as well as its various homages to classic titles from horror’s past is admirable, though not enough to compensate for the lack of care paid to its characters & plotting. The recent smash hit IT proved that exact dichotomy can be successful in an above-average film, but Sacrilege doesn’t have the same resources (namely time & money) to pull that trick off. What’s left, then, are a few decent horror spooks & gags that work well enough in isolation, but do little to salvage the picture at large. It’s honestly impressive that productions this cheap ever manage to accomplish more than that.

A group of (very unconvincing) college freshmen in their early 20s (?) find themselves on the wrong end of a demonic possession when the purchase a haunted music box from a yard sale. The ghost of a little girl who “lives” in the box torments their humble rental home by forcing each too-old-for-this-shit roommate to commit suicide one by one until they’re all dead or the curse is lifted, whichever comes first. There’s also an Insidious/The Conjuring-style paranormal investigative team that invades their space in an attempt to save the day, with mixed results. There isn’t enough gore or camp in Sacrilege to cover up the blemishes of its limited production values. This is wholly sincere digital schlock, not the winking live action cartoon of a WolfCop or Zombeavers. Because of that tonal restraint and the blatant deficiencies in authentic dialogue, human behavior can come across as amusingly odd in the film. Characters vocally reminding each other that they are college students after all or angrily insulting the very notion of yard sales at top volume convey the feeling of a horror script produced by a computer algorithm or a space alien. Still, Sacrilege manages to pack a fairly thin demonic possession premise with plenty of genre-specific hallmarks you’re not used to seeing in a single picture: vampire bites, creepy children, forced suicide, paranormal investigation, Catholic iconography, ghosts, exorcism, found footage, jump scares, and so on. The craft doesn’t often match the enthusiasm, but there’s a genuine love of horror necessary to assemble that kind of hodgepodge, a sentiment I appreciate.

There are two major studio horror releases from 2017 Sacrilege happens to superficially resemble: Wish Upon & Polaroid. I can’t fault the film for suffering the lower financial rung of a parallel-thinking happenstance, so my impulse is to blame the more expensive flicks for not applying their resources to a more distinctive idea. I also can’t really attack Sacrilege for its misleading cover art that promises the monstrous threat of demonic nuns who never appear or the awkwardness of its sub-professional dramatic performances; most of its faults seem like circumstances of its budget. Instead, I’ll say this: the parts of the movie where the effort feels focused & concentrated (namely the set pieces & scare gags) can often forgive the shortcomings of the much less intensely crafted dramatic & character-based beats. Drone shots & time elapse montage build tension released in moments where a bloody, demonic hand will reach out from within the evil music box to hover at the back of a character’s neck. Images in the dark are misinterpreted & reconfigured to throw off the audience’s sense of reality in the quiet lull before a jump scare. I don’t have it in me to tear down Sacrilege as viciously as the reception I’ve seen elsewhere online, because its (demonically possessed) heart is in the right place in that way. It’s just a shame these scare gags couldn’t be applied to a better-written, better-funded screenplay.

-Brandon Ledet

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