Sometimes a low-budget, debut feature film looks exactly like what it is—someone’s struggling attempt to make their first movie.
That pretty much describes Sacrilege, an exercise in trying to make a horror film by simply stringing together familiar elements gleaned from movies of the past.
Essentially, it is the story of four, free-spirited young women who decide to spend a few days at a very remote getaway location in the deep, dark forests of England.
That becomes the first bad choice in a string of bad choices that indicate from the start of the movie that these hapless women are as clueless as they are vulnerable.
There is the handsome hitchhiker who casually suggests that they should attend a local annual pagan festival taking place near where they are staying.
There is the scary, mute groundskeeper who they meet just outside their rented home, digging with a pitchfork standing next to a black Range Rover adorned with spear-like deer antlers attached to the hood.
Either of these encounters might have prompted normally intelligent young women to turn their rented yellow van around and drive straight back home. But they don’t.
It’s hard to have compassion or sympathy for people who seem to lack judgement or common sense;
particularly when they spend most of their time snapping selfies and giggling.
The giggling gets worse when they discover that the small greenhouse on the property is a mini marijuana plantation with drawers full of cigar sized joints which they gleefully light up.
About the only thing missing here is Cyndi Lauper’s song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” playing in the background of this Girls Night Out scenario.
They seem to be unaware that the house where they are staying is haunted, as evidenced by the movie's opening flashback sequence showing a screaming man running out the front door in the middle of the night and promptly bursting into flames, in a terrifying, grisly display.
Before they come to that realization, they decide to attend the aforementioned annual pagan festivities happening in the nearby dark forest.
Again, the sight of people participating in some sort of occult ceremony complete with burning torches and a make-shift goddess effigy fashioned out of tree branches and deer antlers doesn’t deter the young ladies from participating in the partying and dancing in slow motion to the droning of a heavy metal ballad.
It’s a scene that should have been brimming with sensuality and evil. It comes off instead as something resembling a Friday night sorority bonfire dance at the local community college.
In general, Sacrilege, despite its bold, provocative title, decides to play it safe with regard to the violence, gore and sex which are staples of the horror genre for decades.
If anything, it plays like one of the old-school British horror films that Hammer Studios used to crank out; the ones starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and a bevy of buxom young women who became sacrificial lambs at the hands of depraved psychopaths.
Sacrilege seems to be banking on all the stock shots and scenes that have made earlier horror films successful--the haunted house with the evil, nightmare and hallucination-inducing presence that drives its occupants insane.
There are the mind games directed at the victim’s fears and phobias (in this case, involving vicious dogs and creepy, crawly insects). We’ve seen it all before. And we’ve seen it done more effectively.
In fairness, Sacrilege is an independent-produced horror film made on what appears to be a very limited budget, but George Romero proved over a half century ago that a low-budget, black and white, 16mm horror flick could go on to become one of the scariest movies ever made.
Originality, and the boldness of breaking taboos and shattering the conventions of the genre were the keys to Romero’s success.
Stringing a bunch of tried-and-true plot elements together isn’t enough to make a scary movie.
Granted, it’s a fun exercise if you’re a filmmaker learning his craft. But audiences expect more than familiarity mixed with homage, such as the lengthy opening aerial shots reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980).
Thematically, the movie has much in common with The Wicker Man, originally made in 1973 with Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland and later unsuccessfully re-made in 2006 with Nicholas Cage, Ellen Burstyn and Leelee Sobieski.
There are even two other movies with the title Sacrilege, one made in 1986 and one made in 2017.
There really isn’t anything fresh or original in Sacrilege.
The plot meanders along, offering up a few gratuitous scenes like the young woman deciding to take a swim in the middle of the night, helpless and alone (never a good idea in movies like this), or the spontaneous, tastefully-staged scene of romance that suddenly sparks between two of the girlfriends. Even when it tries to spice things up a bit, Sacrilege simply interjects things that we’ve seen before.
Yes, there is some bloody, Freudian impalement thrown in to satisfy horror purists, but diehard fans will probably be disappointed in this by-the-numbers horror film and its disappointing, anticlimactic ending.
For them, this haphazard attempt to make a scary movie from spare parts may be the real sacrilege here.
Sacrilege is available on DVD and digital on March 16.