Review: SACRIFICE Treads Familiar Ground
Bodies of mutilated women, children in peril, distraught mothers and mysterious sects are ripe fodder for horror films, and are tropes that writer and directors return to frequently. As such, with this ground being tred frequently, it's hard to come up with a concept or perspective that is original, or at least compelling. Such is the case with Sacrifice; director and writer Peter A. Dowling (who wrote Flight Plan) has created a combination of The Stepford Wives and Rosemary's Baby, with the locale and twisted religious rites of The Wicker Man thrown in. The result is a film that's neither great nor terrible; treading old paths can be comforting, but the end result is relatively forgettable.
After several miscarriages, Dr. Tora Hamilton (Radha Mitchell) and her husband Duncan (Rupert Graves) return to his childhood home on a large island in northern Scotland, where they plan to adopt. Tora discovers the body of a young woman on their property, a body covered in rune lettering which she is convinced is a recent burial. Her private investigation starts to uncover a secret sect intent that seems intent on producing male offspring with little regard for the mother's life.
So it a story stitched together from stories done in other horror films; this in and of itself isn't necessarily bad, but to what end? I kept hoping some interesting theme or message would be drawn out, either about what makes a real mother or about the dominance of the patriarchy in small communities. But there seemed to be little motivation from the creators, except to scare the audience, which it mildly did in a few scenes.
The difficulty with a film such as Sacrifice is that is stitches together various parts of other, more well-known horror films into an amalgam that is predictable. A couple move to a small community, which means this communtiy has something to hide. Tora finds a body with strange markings that no one will acknowledge might be a recent burial, so she will investigate; she will find herself a target of the evil forces at work, and of course, since this is a woman in the lead, the grief and trauma and her reaction to it must stem from issues with motherhood.
Mitchell is the film's best asset. She's occasionally dabbled in genre film (her spectacular turn in Pitch Black for one, and her work in Silent Hill), but she's likely more familiar to general audiences for dramatic work. She brings just the right balance of intelligence to Tora, who investigates even when she knows that it's dangerous, and grieving mother. She brings a realistic character into an extraordinary situation without hesitation or doubt on the part of the audience. She is aided in this by Graves, also a dabbler in genre film, who takes what is a rather bland husband role and gives it a little more depth, making the swings between his character's stance more intense.
Certainly, coming up with original stories isn't easy; most films aren't original stories, but instead find new ways of telling older stories, or new ways to explore common themes. Sacrifice isn't a bad film, nor is it necessarily boring: the acting is good, there are some good scares and a decent atmosphere. But we've been here before, and we've seen this story done in more interesting ways.
Sacrifice opens in New York on Friday, April 29 at the IFC Center, in Los Angeles on Friday, May 6 at the Arena Theatre, and will be available on demand in the US.