SACRILEGE *** UK 2020 Dir: David Creed. 83 mins
Time and time again you encounter a concept in a film or book that ends up overshadowing substance. The concept is lost in a flurry of plotted red herrings or a ridiculous twist ending. David Creed’s 2020 picture SACRILEGE is neither of those. In fact it one of the tightest, most visually modern Gothic looking films that I have seen from independent cinema.
Works produced by independent film varies with budget and scope. Not all are created equal. SACRILEGE has what many films of this nature do not: good lead actors. Give these actors good situations, shoot it well, and the story just unfolds.
The story is a simple yet relatable one. Four lifelong friends head to a remote lodge for some much-needed fun and a reconciliation. However, upon learning of a local pagan festival where you can dance, drink and smoke ‘weed’ with reckless abandon, their bonds and sanity are tested as the personal fears of each begin to take physical form. It is indeed a story that has been done before. In the case of SACRILEGE (2020), it is how the idea is executed on screen which is subtle and wonderful.
SACRILEGE (2020) begins with a graphic depiction of a man who spontaneously combusts while getting into his car at the same lodge. The effects work well and the figure is genuinely shocking, especially close-ups of the burning face as the man is trying to climb into the nearby swimming pool. If the picture has one fault, it would be the inclusion of this moment to start to picture off in an arresting way. To me it was not relatable.
The film shifts to the four female friends in a city. Kayla (Tamaryn Payne), Trish (Emily Watt), Blake (Sian Abrahams) and Stacey (Naomi Willow). Fluffy names for some very fluffy characters that all have distinct personalities. Kayla is the ‘mothering type,’ always helping with a ready smile. Trish is the earth physical person, ready for action. Blake is the seeker of life’s pleasures and risk taker. Stacey is the more self-absorbed one who loves to take selfies. These are not one note characters; each is a nuanced individual and they are all carried out brilliantly. Their common bond is the fear each has. The fears the women face range from the conventional like bugs on the body, to fear of dogs to the facile like loss of youth to major trauma of having an abusive relationship, resulting in sexual assault.
The friends decide to have a weekend get away together. Driving in a yellow van, and offering dialogue that reveals more of their characters, they meet a hitchhiker Vinnie (John Glasgow), who tells them of the pagan festival before being dropped off in the local town. They also come in contact with a reticent groundsman (Rory Wilton) of the house they are staying at. The groundsman is silent, stand offish, brooding, and gives them strange looks. This may lead one to think that the film is another example of the ‘took a wrong turn’ genre.
The girls attend the pagan festival, where they write down their fears on a sheet of paper that is burned in bonfire. They drink, they dance. They stagger home. Some swim naked in the pool on the estate. Some have dreams and their fears begin to manifest. Some will win and some will lose as the cult has control.
The actors in this film from the leads to the background are strong. The four principal women are loved by the camera. The locale used is a suitably dark and modern Gothic one, reminiscent of early Hammer Studios films such as The Reptile (1966) and Plague of the Zombies (1966). The woods are dark and full of paths. Even the swimming pool looks menacing at night. The director and cinematographer make good use of foreground and background action. The music was composed by Colin McGinness and bears some of the same chords and tone, unintentionally, of moments in the musical score of Hammer’s Curse of Frankenstein (1956).
SACRILEGE (2020) may not be everyone’s cup of blood (or tea) since the story is more about personal redemption than about mindless violence perpetrated by a grounds person who was harmed as a child. There is gore, perhaps not enough to satisfy the gore hounds. That is not the point of this story. The actors, particularly the leads, carry the story and are all wonderful, strong and different.
One of the hallmarks of this picture is just because you have pretty girls, scantily dressed does not mean you have to be gratuitous. The skin shown follows the story. The naked swimming is handled well, even with Blake yelling “Have a good look you pervs” into the woods. Even the softcore lesbian love moment is handled well and plausibly. The nudity or the sex is not the story, yet it is part of the people in the film. The pagan ritual and the accoutrements have been seen before in film. Again, that is not the story. These items are signposts to the eventual end, especially the resulting ‘parting of the wave’ at the conclusion.
SACRILEGE (2020) is a revelation for independent film. The characters have layers and there is a subtle ending that is more about resolution and redemption than revenge.
Review by Terry Sherwood