Strong performances elevate this intermittently absorbing family melodrama from writer-director Michael Cohn.
When high-school bros go deep into the woods armed with hunting rifles and expanding torsos, there will be blood, along with plentiful inclement weather. There are gobs of both in “Sacrifice,” but also a quieter moral reckoning that offers the more compelling reason to see this conventional, intermittently absorbing indie from writer-director Michael Cohn (“When the Bough Breaks”). For all its thriller accessorizing, the film grows on you — a little — as a biblical family melodrama that digs into the domestic origins of a compound crime while piling on the wages of sin. Solidly fortified with seasoned actors Dermot Mulroney and Melora Walters, and Austin Abrams as a struggling adolescent, the movie was made under the aegis of the film collaborative JuntoBox, and its combination of horror frissons and contemplative character study should give it modest crossover appeal in young and older markets.
Part hunk, part otherworldly good boy, Texan football hero Hank Youngblood (Luke Kleintank) appears to be blessed with all the luck in the world. The clear favorite of his dysfunctional parents, Hank graduates from high school courted by college coaches and a doe-eyed classmate. Setting out on a celebratory hunting trip with his besties Benny (Lewis Tan) and Kaz (Brandon Smith), Hank reluctantly tows along his younger brother, Tim (Abrams), a skinny also-ran who both idolizes and resents his sibling.
In the forest with beers and weed and all that verboten gear (no girls allowed in Man Land), a gun goes off by accident, then another possibly by design — all of which piles up more corpses, comas and torrential rain than intelligent plotting requires. The fallout unhinges those left behind, and fans out into further malignancy in their small town.
Cohn’s script is overly transparent, and the moral reflection in “Sacrifice” is not exactly Dostoevsky. But when the action ventures out of the woods and digs into the moral rot that afflicts Hank and Tim’s family, the movie picks up some emotional steam and introduces some welcome ambiguity into its title. Abrams shows promising range as the tortured little brother who, so far from coming into his own as expected, unravels splendidly under mounting pressure. Additional polish comes from Walters as the boys’ ground-down mother and Mulroney as their father, a disappointed lush who has poured his deferred dreams into his elder son while willfully neglecting his needy younger child.
Pressure mounts on Hank, too, and the flow of warped response from one to the other of this benighted family is astutely and sympathetically done. There are no victors or villains, only mixed motives in “Sacrifice.” Everybody has his (and her) reasons, but that complexity is undercut by an 11th-hour twist that strains all belief, and a lazily tacked-on confession at the climax. To say nothing of the movie’s flawed premise that not only original sin but every inconsequential transgression, every lie and ethical fudge, brings us closer to whacking our friends and neighbors.