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Sacrifice Review

February 4, 2021 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Sacrifice Barbara Crampton
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Sacrifice Review  

Directed by: Andy Collier & Tor Mian
Written by: Andy Collier & Tor Mian

Barbara Crampton – Renate
Sophie Stevens – Emma
Ludovic Hughes – Isaac
Johanna Adde Dahl – Astrid
Lukas Loughran – Gunnar
Erik Iundin – Hallstein
Dag Sorlie – Matias
Jack Kristiansen – Ledvor

Running Time: 87 minutes
Not rated.

Lovecraftian horror is all the rage as of late. The cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft has long been an inspiration for the literary genre, but outside of Stuart Gordon’s films and very indirect allusions in other films, film adaptations of his work were kept to the margins of horror for decades. Not so much anymore, and Lovecraftian horror elements have shown up in multiple mainstream live-action properties of the past few years from Annihilation and Underwater to Lovecraft Country and Colour Out of Space, a direct adaptation of the Lovecraft story.

The latest entry into this particular subgenre is Sacrifice, which hits theaters on February 5th and VOD on February 9th and takes its cues from elements of Lovecraft and the short story “Men of the Cloth” by Paul Kane. Andy Collier and Tor Mian, who previously earned some attention with their 2017 psychological horror film Charismata, take Kane’s story and transplant it to Norway for a little added mood in a film that lays the emphasis on nightmarish dread, building the tension toward an inevitable climax.

After an opening sequence in which a woman washes blood away and flees a town with her little boy, Sacrifice sets its lens on Ludovic Hughes and Sophie Stevens as Isaac and Emma, an expecting couple who return to Isaac’s childhood home on a remote Norwegian island. His mother recently passed, Isaac has inherited the home he once lived in and has arrived to sell the place before returning to the US. Upon their arrival, Isaac’s outsider manners quickly finds hostility from the locals at a pub until they realize who his family is, at which point there’s an unnerving level of acceptance – indeed, almost a submission.

Not long after, the two are visited in their home by Renate (Crampton), the local sheriff, who has some questions about a murder than once occurred in the home. Isaac is of course the young boy that was taken away in the prologue, and he learns that his father was murdered there. As Emma and Isaac interact with the insular community, Isaac begins to learn more about the culture he grew up in and Emma begins to be inflicted with vivid nightmares that seem to relate to the locals’ worship of a water deity known as “The Slumbering One.” Finding Isaac to be little help as he gets more invested into his homeland, Emma must take it upon herself to ensure her own safety, as well as that of her unborn child.

Sacrifice follows closely on the trend of independent features which rely more on mood and surreal imagery than jump scares, a decision by Collier and Mian which serves the film well. There is a lot of heavy lifting done by the remote locale, which was predominantly filmed on location in Norway and lends nicely to isolation that Emma feels. It’s not hard to see elements of “Americans in a foreign land” horror like The Grudge and even Hostel in the set-up, though the directors eschew the freaky spectres or savage sadism of those movies. Instead, they lean on that sense of seclusion – a feeling emphasized by Isaac’s quickly being seduced into his home culture in more ways than one.

While Isaac is the catalyst for the film – and to his credit, Hughes has no issue leaning into the character’s negative aspects to facilitate that – the focus is on Emma. She is our point of view character, and Stevens centers the film by being a likeable, resourceful protagonist. She has the rational reactions to the weirdness going on around her and it’s quite easy to get behind her when she makes some hard choices for her own good. While the film stays overly serious in its mood here and a little humor in one or two parts may have done it some good, it is fun to see her bounce off the bizarre behavior of the villagers. Stevens is also an admirable scream queen; you may find yourself saying “Girl, get out of there!” much sooner than she does, but she commits herself to the role.

It helps that the supporting cast is quite solid, led horror great Barbara Crampton. Crampton is definitely making some choices here, particularly in her accent which is a bit at odds with the legit Scandinavian actors to say the least. But she also provides a lot of fun work, making the heavy amount of exposition she has to deliver more easily digestible than it otherwise would be. Crampton shows off her horror veteran chops here, providing an enjoyable anchor among the locals of the town. She knows how to navigate the waters between someone the audience believes Emma would rely on, but who also may well be a villain and threat to our heroine.

Collier and Mian aren’t shy about their allusions. Early in the film we get heavy references to Cthulhu mythos – tentacles, dripping water, and if that’s not enough Isaac finds an old stuffed toy that is literally The Sleeper of R’lyeh himself. It’s not hard to guess who “The Slumbering One” is, and anyone familiar with Lovecraftian myths can probably suss out most of the plot from here.

That’s one of the chief issues with this film, in fact. While newcomers to the Cthulhu mythos may miss some of the references, the story follows some incredibly predictable beats. That’s not something that completely ruins the film; there’s something to be said for the horror of inevitability. But it does mean that up until deep into the final act, surprising twists aren’t very surprising. The cast handle things ably and the film’s pacing keeps the tension moving well, but few people are going to be kept guessing until a solid twist very deep into the final act.

There are a few other things you can pick at here and there; the visual effects are what you would expect from a low budget indy horror film for example, and the film arguably takes a few narrative shortcuts in how quickly Isaac gets seduced into the town’s religious practices. But while these may momentarily distract a time or two, they don’t hurt things too badly. It’s especially easy to ignore those flaws when you’re busy being captivated by the gorgeous location, which the directors use to great effect. It’s okay to be a modest horror film with modest aims, and while that means Sacrifice doesn’t latch onto your soul the way a film like Midsommar does, it engages well enough to be an enjoyably unsettling film in its own right.

The final score: review Average
The 411
Sacrifice is a perfectly acceptable little bit of Lovecraftian horror from Andy Collier & Tor Mian that delivers on its mood with some fun performances and a solid use of culty horror tropes. Barbara Crampton is fun in her supporting role of the local sheriff while Sophie Stevens admirably anchors the film opposite Ludovic Hughes as a couple in peril in a town that is increasingly foreign to one and ominously attractive to the other. While the film may lack in surprises, it breezes by on a gorgeous locale and solid use of mood for a decently creepy 87 minutes.

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Sacrifice, Jeremy Thomas