Seven pals - gay couple Blake (Avery Pfieffer) and Lee (Troy Ford) seem devoted to one another despite opposition from their families; wisecracking Buddy (Hugo Matz) fancies his chances with every female; Lorri (Amanda Rebholz) is the flirt with a big heart; dour blonde Jennifer (Brittany Badali) is the bearer of bad omens in comparison; token black dude Jeff (Wesley Kimeny) is nothing if not slick; Shell (Cassandra Hierholzer) scores points for being the hot Goth chick - wake up from a drunken slumber one morning and decide to embark on a cross-country vacation to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

However, as they approach the Texan border, they learn of the threat of a bad storm drawing near. Aware that their transportation has seen better days, the group decides to take shelter in a small town they just happen to be passing by.

They're not to know that we've just witnessed one unfortunate man's foiled attempt at escaping the very place our septet are heading into.

To Blake, Lee and co though, the residents of Middle Spring initially appear to be very accommodating indeed.

Having checked into Bebe's B&B, our fun-loving twentysomethings aren't overly interested in the fact that the locals are celebrating barbecue season - something that not only entails chomping down on suspicious-looking chunks of meat, but also copious amounts of fevered religious babbling. Between them, our protagonists' thoughts are more geared towards boozing, shagging and skinny-dipping.

Just the kind of things this puritanical community don't take kindly to!

Viewers don't have too long to wait before the locals have been whipped up into a righteous frenzy by demented Pastor's son Brahm (Joshua Cole Simmons), and even the friendliest-seeming of patrons - among these are diner owners Beulah (Marilyn Burns) and her husband Luke (Ed Guinn) - have sin-eating on their minds ...

Not to be confused with 2013's THE SACRAMENT, Eli Roth and Ti West's tepid collaborative effort, this film - expanded from an original 6-minute short - marks the feature debut of Texan Shawn Ewert. His earlier short films impressed (especially "Jack's Bad Day") but here is where the writer-director truly begins to shine.

Well-framed, nicely lit and adroitly edited, the smartly paced SACRAMENT certainly exudes technical proficiency from the off. The town of Middle Spring is convincingly evinced, effective production design creating a tangible atmosphere of deranged danger. A host of extras help the town congregation scenes to achieve great impact. Considering the film's budget was apparently $25,000.00, the end results are striking.

Another asset is Ewert's sharp script. As events progress, he has fun scrutinising the evils of religious zealotry and examining perceptions of what constitutes abhorrent behaviour. Openly gay himself and a keen supporter of equal rights plights, Ewert utilises his leads to great effect as their relationship becomes more of a pivotal plot point during the film's second half. Indeed, there is a late speech from one character which not only provides perhaps the most crucial piece of narrative in the film but also - I suspect - exorcises Ewert's own feelings about being part of a minority community within the conservative confines of Texas. It makes for a moving, powerful moment.

Yes, the premise is an overly familiar one. Genre enthusiasts will no doubt have been quick to assert the above synopsis' similarities to THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and TWO THOUSAND MANIACS. The director acknowledges these too, what with extended cameos from Burns and Guinn (both veterans of the former, of course) and the odd moment of Lewis-esque offbeat humour.

I don't want to make too much of the fact that two of the principal characters are gay. Other online reviews have already tripped over themselves to exclaim how "unique" this plot device is within the horror genre. In actual fact, it isn't. But I've ended up highlighting it too, of course, as (a) it's a matter which proves increasingly important as the film unfurls, (b) it provides a great springboard - and motivation - for Ewert's satirical views, and (c) contributes chiefly to the film's identity as a whole. And, naturally, it gives the cannibalistic zealots something to get properly worked up about!

Those disinterested in sexual politics can rest assured that SACRAMENT is also gory, with nice practical FX work overseen by Matthew Ash which help the film to retain an "80s homage" vibe throughout. The blood comes in fits and starts for the most part, but come the final 10 minutes or so there's plenty of it being splashed across the screen; flesh-munching, disembowelments and nasty impalements abound. Unlike a lot of latter-day low budget horror flicks, Ewert's film shows the acts of violence too - not just their bloody aftermaths.

Performances are admittedly uneven. This is where the inexperience of all involved really comes to the fore. Some of the players appear extremely self-conscious in front of the camera. Still, the lead couple manage to attain an agreeable level of authenticity (and have no problem getting their bollocks out right from the start). Simmons' religious nutjob is satisfyingly manic. It's great to see Burns on the offensive too, clearly having fun as the aggressor for a change - sadly, this ended up being her last role.

UK viewers are being treated to Ewert's crowd-funded film ahead of their US counterparts, thanks to Left Films' shrewd acquisition.

The film is presented uncut on their DVD and boasts an impressively bright, sharp picture. Shot on HD equipment, colours are vivid, detail is incredible (especially in close-up shots) and canny colour-correction in post-production has ensured that the movie looks agreeably film-like for the most part.

English 2.0 audio is equally clean, crisp and reliable throughout.

A static main menu page leads into an animated scene selection menu allowing access to the film via 9 chapters.

A healthy clutch of bonus features begin with an agreeable commentary track from Ewert, assistant director Matt Ochs, co-producer Donna White and several of the actors. Lots of laughter accompany some good stories which help demonstrate the amount of preparation and thought that went into making SACRAMENT. It's a good track - informative, friendly, and proof positive that everyone got on like a house on fire during production.

26 minutes of on-location cast and crew interviews are good fun, with the 7 minutes devoted to the witty, lovely Burns being the obvious highlight.

The original 6-minute short film (also entitled SACRAMENT) is a welcome inclusion here. It's interesting to note that its contents are reproduced in the main feature, albeit with different casting and glossier results.

44 minutes worth of audition footage would've been interesting at a fraction of the length.

7 deleted scenes add extended sub-plots here and there; two original trailers do fair jobs of accurately selling the film. A 9-minute featurette showing the casting of an arm for a gore effect makes for fascinating behind-the-scenes viewing.

Finally, a trailer reel for other Left Films titles includes previews of DARKEST DAY, INVOKED, ZOMBIE RESURRECTION, BONG OF THE DEAD, BLOOD CAR and NINJAS VERSUS MONSTERS.

The disc is also defaulted to open with trailers for the first three on that list.

SACRAMENT is a well-made, absorbing and fun modern take on gory 80s horror riffs. It's gory, briskly paced and unafraid of querying blinkered politics while soaking the screen in entertainment.

It looks fantastic on DVD and is blessed here with plentiful interesting bonus features.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Left Films
Region 2
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review