Friday, December 26, 2014

The Sacrament, Jonestown Revisited

Earlier this year I traveled to Guyana.  My desire to visit "Jonestown" was thwarted by the jungle, as nature reclaimed a very unholy tract of acreage.  November 18, 1978 the Guyana military sent paratroopers to Jonestown.  These brave soldiers radioed in what they observed, hundreds (918, see picture below) of sign of violence.  Central command in Georgetown assumed a plague or pandemic was the culprit.  The paratroopers are told they would be on their own until confirmation that contagions aren't responsible.  For three days the soldiers lived among the rotting dead, shunning food and water, which could be infected.  Nearly two weeks later, after baking in the jungle heat, law enforcement and the military will arrive to bag and tag the former members of Reverend Jim Jones' cult...the Peoples Temple.  Their demise, cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid (not Kool-Aid, which is still heavily sold and advertised in Guyana).
This brings us to  Eli Roth's 2013's "The Sacrament."  Directed by Ti West, this is a modern re-telling of the horror that forever stained a coastal South American country.  Though fiction, this film's parallels with the actual events in Jonestown are no coincidence.  A film crew heads to a mysterious location near the equator to do a story on The Eden Parish.  This ministry (..cult) collected addicts, drunks, and victims of western imperialistic and racist actions (their words, not mine) and gave them hope, love, and importance,  At first all looks Kosher (forgive the choice of words).  Then our film crew meets "Father" (Gene Jones).  Sam (AJ Bowen) is able to interview this charismatic figure.  Sam is instantly creeped out by this cult leader.  After the interview, Sam and Jake (Joe Swanberg), the cameraman, receive indications that not all is well in Eden Parish.  With some snooping, our duo realize that many of the church-members are captives who are not allowed to leave.  Further evidence suggests that "Father" has addicted the beautiful Caroline (Amy Seimetz) to drugs and has lots of carnal relations with her.
The vision of a paradise devolves into images of prison camps as many of the members beg our film crew to rescue them from oppression.  However holy "Father" makes himself appear, minimal scrutiny suggests something very horrific. Unfortunately, NO ONE LEAVES ALIVE!  Now Sam and Jake must decide whether to cut and run or attempt to rescue some traumatized women and children. We should mention Patrick (Kentucky Audley), the third member of the film crew, and Caroline's brother.  The cult has plans for him.  People who remember accounts of Jonestown in 1978 know how this will end.  The ending won't be easy to watch, consider yourself warned.
Jim Jones, before founding Jonestown, was rubbing elbows with San Francisco's political elite.  President Jimmy Carter, and his wife Rosalind were admirers of his.  Realizing that U.S. tax laws might put a hurt on his ministry, he moved it to Guyana.  The rest is history....unfortunately, a largely forgotten piece of history.  Eli Roth and Ti West have made an important film, and hopefully the dangers of Jim Jones-type figures will be realized.  Evil will not enter your door breathing fire and screaming carnage.  Evil will be welcomed into our homes uttering guidance for salvation and peace.  Mr. Roth and Mr. West tell one such story.



  1. Great review Chrsitopher for a surprisingly good film as I wasn't sure if its update & semi meta approach would work properly but it did, for me & I thought the actor who played "Father" was great. Although too young to remember it as I was just a toddler I've always been interested in cults & particularly criminal cults, such as the Solar Temple & Monster of Florence affair. (I actually used my Jimjoneskoolaid twitter handle to insult murderer groupies though as I regard them as akin to a cult)

    Great & informative review & thanks for the info re Roth & the correction on the actual Flavour aid, cheers.

  2. Just talking to you Chris about Jonestown, I agree that evil can come veiled in peace and harmony and how compelling the message is. It’s very difficult to have a conversation with anyone whom embraces that message, without seeming to attack their beliefs. Eli Roth and Ti West were in the tv documentary I mentioned earlier.