Over the last several years, we’ve witnessed folk horror make a quiet comeback. Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, Robert Egger’s The Witch, Ari Aster’s Midsommar, and Gareth Evans’ The Apostle – horror is chasing The Wicker Man’s atmosphere. And no, not The Wicker Man with Nicolas Cage running around in a bear suit. Now pagan cult horror movie Sacrilege looks to tap into the same rural dread on VOD streaming services. To date, the few critics who have reviewed it have been unimpressed.
Four friends – Kayla, Trish, Blake, and Stacey – take off for a cabin in the small village of Mabon for an ‘all-girls’ weekend. Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker who tells them about a local pagan cult and solstice festival. Looking for some fun and adventure, the girls join their new friend for an evening of drugs and alcohol despite the warnings of an old woman to leave. When the girls wake up the next morning, visions of their worst fears begin haunting them. Soon they discover that Mabon’s cult intended to sacrifice them to their goddess.
Sacrilege Too Often Forgets About Its Cult In Pagan Cult Horror
First-time director David Creed clearly knows what kind of movie he wants to put on screen. In its opening minutes, Sacrilege packs in a disturbing death while teasing an ominous presence. But from that point onwards, Creed stiches his movie together from iconographic pagan references with little care for their meaning. Antlered-husks on doors, animal masks, and figures of Mabon forged from branches will prime audiences for much better movies. We’ve seen these same images – The Blair Witch Project, You’re Next, The Ritual – but with one key difference – we knew why we should be scared in those movies.
But from that point onwards, Creed stiches his movie together from iconographic pagan references with little care for their meaning.
Despite its efforts to fit into the folk horror subgenre, Sacrilege’s ‘pagan cult’ is something of a non-entity. It’s a poorly defined threat missing most, if not all, of the things that make cults both fascinating and frightening. In addition to lacking a charismatic, menacing leader, Creed – who also wrote the screenplay – gives them no clear mythology outside of their need to offer sacrifices. That is, Sacrilege has no clear rules governing its scares. As a result, much of the movie’s events feel random. No where is this more apparent than with the movie’s frustrating ending.
Sacrilege Fails To Find Fear In Its Setting or Characters
Despite some beautiful shots of its landscape and a disturbing initial scene of an unseen threat stalking a hapless victim, Sacrilege falls apart almost immediately. Creed checks off the requisite things you expect to see in folk horror but fails to put them to use. Though rural landscapes play a crucial role in the atmosphere of folk horror, Sacrilege never exploits its own setting. There’s a lack of atmosphere with only sporadic scares spread across the movie. Like its nondescript pagan cult, the rural landscape is just sort of present.
By and large, Sacrilege is a movie where characters’ poor choice are necessary to drive the plot.
If the movie lacks atmosphere, dread, and scares, Sacrilege’s characters don’t help much either. None of the performances in the movie are bad. Instead, Sacrilege suffers from tired character tropes and generally flat execution. Creed’s screenplay gives each of its four main characters a ‘fear’ that are either generic or underdeveloped. No one will be surprised when the vain selfie-obsessed ‘Stacey’ (Naomi Willows) sees herself as a grotesquely aged hag. Only Tamaryn Payne’s ‘Kayla’ has something resembling a character arc. And the movie has little time to invest in it. By and large, Sacrilege is a movie where characters’ poor choice are necessary to drive the plot.
Don’t expect Sacrilege to make any lists of best folk horror movies, now or ever. Following a promising start, Sacrilege quickly into a scare-free affair with a poorly defined threat. Aside from its main character, no one registers as very sympathetic. As a result, you’re left waiting for the movie to connect the dots and reach its inevitable conclusion. Yet even in its ending, Sacrilege manages to disappoint. Though it’s not an outright bad movie – it looks good and has a few moments – audiences will walk away happy from this uncompelling attempt at folk horror.