Forgoing his fondness of haunted indoor enclosures for open-air, communal weirdness, indie horror maven Ti West ("House of the Devil") has made something first creepy, then puzzling, in "The Sacrament."
It's a fictional reworking, found-footage-style, of the Jonestown massacre in which a trio of scrappy Vice Media correspondents (Joe Swanberg, A.J. Bowen, Kentucker Audley) travel to a quasi-socialist religious sect's self-sustaining "parish" in a remote, forest-enclosed clearing in an unnamed country.
The trip is to seek out a missing family member (Amy Seimetz) but also to get a juicy story and interview the group's leader, known as "Father" and played with eerie authority by a drawling, corpulent Gene Jones.
The first half is a cautiously dread-inducing tour de force as the suspicious interlopers parse the shiny, happy members for signs of a darker version of paradise. (That the encampment is protected by armed guards is one red flag.) The second half, however, when all hell breaks loose a little too quickly, is the disappointment: a litany of dying and meager escape suspense that echoes the sensationalism of the Guyana tragedy without adding psychological insight into the particular horror of cult mentality.
MPAA rating: R for violence including bloody images, language and brief drug use.
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
At Sundance Sunset Cinema, Los Angeles.