Ti West on ‘The Sacrament’: ‘Real Violence Is Scarier Than Zombies, Vampires and Ghosts’

Joe Swanberg (front), Ti West, A.J.
Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

Some friends get together for a round of drinks, others for a game of pick-up. But for “The Sacrament” helmer Ti West and his merry band of collaborators, nothing beats coming together to make a movie.

“If I’m not making a movie with [Joe Swanberg] at least once a year, I get pretty stressed out,” A.J. Bowen said of his co-star at a special screening of the Jonestown-inspired found footage film on Tuesday at the Arclight Hollywood. “And I made my career with Ti, so I was on-board from the script stage.”

Like Bowen, most of the principal cast (which also includes Amy Seimetz, Kentucker Audley, and Gene Jones as the bone-chilling cult leader) was looped in from the get-go. That’s because, as West explained, producer Eli Roth relinquished full control to the director, so he was able to write parts in the film specifically for his pals, most of whom he’s worked with for the better part of a decade.

“I was able to write it specifically for who I wanted to cast, and write to their strengths,” West said. “And it’s also helpful that they’re all filmmakers. Because, for example, with Joe Swanberg, he has the camera a lot in the movie, and if I ever had to have him actually shoot something, it was easy.”

“I shot about 80% of the movie, but any time that I just couldn’t be there, it’s often Joe who’s doing it,” West said. “If it was just a regular actor that I had to explain the camera to, it would have been a nightmare. With Joe, I can explain to him the framing that I want and he would just nail it.”

Swanberg plays a cameraman out on assignment for Vice Media. The actor-director (whose most recent directorial work includes “Drinking Buddies” and “Happy Christmas”) called working on “The Sacrament” a very “technical acting job,” one that required both cinematographic and character preparation.

“I spent a lot of time watching Vice’s travel guides because I wanted the camera work to feel in line with that,” he said, “and I also wanted AJ and my performances to feel loose, even in these tense situations. Vice does a really good job about keeping their sense of humor and getting this very objective look at situations that would scare the shit out of most people.”

That might be an understatement. Seimetz said she was shell-shocked by how dark the film turned out after seeing it for the first time at the Toronto Film Festival. West doesn’t call it a horror film, but rather a “horrific” film.

“The goal was really to remind people that real violence is often a lot scarier than zombies and vampires and ghosts and whatnot — stuff I don’t believe in,” West said. “This is the real stuff.”

And what do friends do when things get a little too real? They grab that round of drinks. West and the cast were joined by attendees that included Mark Duplass, Edgar Wright and Josh Leonard up the road at Wood & Vine, where they kicked the horror with the hard stuff.

Magnet releases “The Sacrament” in select theaters on June 6, the film is also available on demand and on iTunes.

(Pictured: Joe Swanberg, at front, Ti West, A.J. Bowen, Gene Jones, Kentucker Audley and Amy Seimetz at “The Sacrament” screening at the Arclight)

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  1. HipsterCrazy says:

    The film hits too close to West’s home of hipsterville. The film drives the thriller line fine and it’s satisfyingly scary but the characters are all so incredibly self satisfied and shallow that we neither know nor care about them and their unfortunate horrific experiences. The film felt like Ti’s Playtime featuring friends and I wasn’t sure where the character began and the actor ended.

    I’m skeptical of Swanberg films as relationship dramas and comedies anyway. But to apply it to a horror thriller? Not very appealing.

  2. jhs39 says:

    The Sacrament is well made but if you’re looking for something scary or entertaining you will probably be disappointed. It’s a horror movie in only the loosest sense of the word, even more so than Ti West’s previous movie The Innkeepers which was basically a slacker comedy until it turned into a horror movie in the last 20 minutes or so.

    The Sacrament is a drama that imagines the Johnstown Massacre happening in contemporary times with a Vice camera crew around. It’s reasonably tense at times and very dark but the viewer can figure out exactly where this is going early and the movie offers no genre pleasures whatsoever–it’s just a documentary style filming of an inevitable and horrific tragedy.

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