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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 27 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 26
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Chilling Sacrament a disturbing social commentary
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE SACRAMENT
Now playing


Patrick's (Kentucker Audley) missing sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) has resurfaced. The former addict claims to have been cured, living within a secluded community located somewhere in South America run by an apparently kind-hearted religious zealot known only as 'Father' (Gene Jones). Heading to the secretive compound, Patrick is joined by investigative journalist Sam (AJ Bowen) and trusted cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg), the trio given 24 hours to document this supposed utopia in order to show the world the bliss taking place therein.

Ti West's The Sacrament is a clear change of pace for The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers auteur, this found footage enterprise more a tragic drama of utopia gone terribly wrong than it is anything else. The movie has shocks galore, showcasing how the best of intentions and the most pristine of ideals can be horrifically corrupted when dogma and paranoia take the place of common sense and measured debate. It takes ideas buried within the layers of films like Martha Marcy May Marlene and takes them to their sinister extreme, evil having no fury like a religious man scorned, especially when he has the power to see his designs gruesomely fulfilled.

West takes his time getting to the point, allowing Sam, Jake and Patrick to explore the community that Caroline has been taken in by, an eerie serenity that you just know hints at something so much more ominous permeating through every conversation the trio has with any of the multicultural cult members. The film isn't trying to frighten, isn't trying to raise a few goosebumps, it's just intent on showcasing how these sorts of places can entrance, and in so doing the chaos to come becomes all the more potent because of this.

Jones, the gas station proprietor who ends up making a lucky call of the coin in No Country for Old Men, is superb as Father, having a sing-song melodiousness to his cadence that's uncomfortably enchanting. He's like Jim Jones, David Koresh, Jerry Falwell and Rush Limbaugh rolled into a single, teddy bear-like frame, waxing poetic one second only to explode into fundamentalist outrage an instant later. He's mesmerizing, making the most of his few scenes, and it's absolutely clear how some could so easily fall under his spell, while the rest of us sit with mouth agape utterly aghast that anyone, anywhere could take him or any of his ilk vaguely seriously.

Admittedly, character development as far as the leads are concerned is hard to come by, but that has more to do with the genre and the style of the film than it does anything else. Audley comes off the worst, doing what he can, even if the material gives him precious little room to breathe or evolve. Seimetz blows him off the screen in their precious few scenes together, her ultimate embrace of him a ruinous body blow that left me shaken and scarred.

The final act is made up of Swanberg running for his life, the cameraman in a mad dash for freedom, unsure whether or not to try and save his friends, or if he should go on his own and allow the chips to fall where they may. His selflessness under fire is impressive, the character the only one of the central trio that shows signs of emotional depth or interior complexity. Seen entirely through Jake's eyes, the actor (himself an independent filmmaker of merit known for films like Drinking Buddies and the upcoming Happy Christmas) manages to do more than just look terrified, the full scope of the tragedy coming to bear as he desperately searches for Sam and Patrick in hopes of pulling them out of the fire before there's nothing left but ashes.

West doesn't try to make more out of the scenario than what is readily apparent, never playing up the atrocities or the horror just to gain genre brownie points. Unlike his previous two enterprises he isn't milking things for a few scares, a fact I'm sure will catch many off guard. All of which makes The Sacrament far more devastating than it otherwise would have been, the filmmaker crafting a social and societal commentary that's as unnervingly insightful as it is chillingly prescient.


Elegantly composed Snowpiercer an apocalyptic commentary
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SNOWPIERCER
Now playing


They need to get to the front of the train. The Snowpiercer has been running for 17 years, ever since the world froze over in a second Ice Age occurring when humanity's attempt to end Global Warming went horrifically wrong. The last vestiges of mankind, a smattering of multiple races culled seemingly from every country, have been packed into the massive, unstoppable locomotive all that time, all separated by class and status the moment they stepped inside.

Curtis (Chris Evans) has been living in the rear since the beginning, listening to his mentor Gilliam (John Hurt), taking to heart his teachings, biding his time for the appropriate moment to launch a coup in order to achieve some sort of equity for everyone on board, not just the wealthy. His closest friend Edgar (Jamie Bell) was born on the Snowpiercer. It's the only world he knows, and he'll follow Curtis all the way to the front, if that's what he thinks is best to ensure the only community he's ever known continues to survive.

There's been a lot of fuss made about South Korean director Bong Joon Ho's Snowpiercer (his adaptation of the best-selling French graphic novel Le Transperceneige) since its debut at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Fanboys everywhere went crazy when it was hinted that Harvey Weinstein wanted a re-edit before he'd release the film in the United States - a galactic uproar asking why the notorious producer (his longtime nickname being 'Harvey Scissorhands') would do such a thing to what had to be an almost definite post-apocalyptic masterpiece.

The good news? Weinstein bowed to the pressure, allowing the Mother and The Host filmmaker to release his personal director's cut to domestic theaters. The bad? Even with a cast that includes comic book hero superstar Evans, Academy Award-winners Octavia Spencer and Tilda Swinton, former Oscar nominees Hurt and Ed Harris, and a slew of international favorites including Bell, Song Kang Ho, Ewen Bremner, Alison Pill and Ko Asung, he was only going to give it a limited theatrical push, with minimal advertising, making its chances of doing any sort of notable business stateside pretty much nil.

The better question, however, revolves around whether or not Snowpiercer has been both worth waiting for, as well as deserving of all this pre-release ruckus; and while the answer is a positive one, it isn't the outright bit of exuberant ecstasy I think many were hoping for. The truth is that Ho's latest is good, occasionally something better than that, but in the same breath it also isn't some landmark masterpiece. It gets the job done, nothing more; and while that's never a thing I'm personally going to scoff at or talk down, I can't say I'm tripping the light fantastic, either.

You could say the movie is an expertly staged amalgam of genre favorites like Mad Max, Das Boot and Assault on Precinct 13 all rolled into one - Ho's not-so-subtle social analysis on today's world as he sees it shining through the gloom, doom and bloody hack-and-slash action theatrics at every turn. With video game exactitude Curtis and his group must move continually forward car-to-car facing a different set of obstacles each step of the way. At the same time, they also move into entirely new worlds, even ecosystems, the train in a metal Noah's Ark containing the last vestiges of the human race and all its knowledge as it makes its year-long trek around the globe.

The action is extraordinary. Ho unleashes a series of brutal, imaginative assaults that more often than not boggle the mind and chill to the bone. But, much like The Raid before it, all this calamity and bludgeoning can be a bit much over a long period of time. While the creativity behind each of these set pieces is impressive, that doesn't mean they still don't lose a little of their power and immediacy as things inch closer to a climax. Even so, it's all sensationally shot by cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo (Mother), and even though space is understandably limited - we're on a train, after all - he gives the film a rich visual esthetic that's constantly intriguing.

But the most exciting aspect is Ho's refusal to bow to typical conventions, allowing the film to slow down at the most unforeseen points in order for his observations to strike home with intimately fascinating toxicity. Whether it be a brief sushi luncheon or an elementary schoolroom sing-a-long, these striking bits of poetry have a breathtaking allure to them. And, while there's nothing subtle about the pointed societal commentary the filmmaker is expressing, it can't help but emotionally register in ways that matter all the same.

I'm not too sure about the way things climactically come to a close, the last act one I need to keep thinking more about before I can pass final overall judgment. Still, Snowpiercer, while not the dystopian existential sci-fi masterpiece I know many were hoping for, is a solid, visually inventive and at times breathlessly exciting epic nonetheless. Ho continues to show he's one of the more ingenious and idiosyncratic directors working today, working in a variety of genres with notable skill. This movie is a good one and, who knows, over time, and after more thought, maybe even I will come to think it's as great as some have attempted to get me to believe.








Your Feast Has Ended: Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, Nicholas Galanin, and Nep Sidhu
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The Unicorn Incorporated: Curtis R. Barnes
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Fitz and the Tantrums are Seattle-bound this Pride weekend
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Cher and Cyndi Lauper add extra sparkle to Pride festivities
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Flagship tasting event at Fremont Studios will showcase Washington's leading distilleries
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Enjoy the Bloody Mary Brunch at TRACE before the Pride Parade
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'Nights at the Neptune' brought Guy Branum for 'Out & In' Free Pride Comedy Night
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Northwest News
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LETTERS
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Chilling Sacrament a disturbing social commentary
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Elegantly composed Snowpiercer an apocalyptic commentary
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