Director: Andy Collier, Tor Mian
Screenplay: Tor Mian, Andy Collier (story), Paul Kane (based on short story by)
Starring: Ludovic Hughes, Sophie Stevens, Barbara Crampton
Duration: 97 min
BBFC Certification: 15
The work of H.P. Lovecraft strangely resists cinematic adaptation. Despite the writer’s profound influence on horror literature, films based on those same stories, while plentiful, have typically been lacking. There must be something inherent in Lovecraft’s work (tales that typically favour nightmarish atmospheres and the creeping dread of an unexplainable mystery over neatly tied up plots and comfortable resolutions) that fails to translate easily to the screen. That is not to say that every attempt has been unsuccessful, however. The Re-Animator films of the 1980s successfully turned a Lovecraft tale into a cult favourite and it seems that 2019’s technicolour LSD trip of a movie, Colour out of Space, might follow suit in the years to come.
Sacrifice, a new horror film from writer/directors Andy Collier and Tor Mian, is actually based on the short story Men of the Cloth by Derbyshire writer Paul Kane, but the film’s opening credits cite Lovecraft as an additional influence. So will this latest cinematic attempt to capture Lovecraft’s unique blend of otherworldly horror become a new cult favourite or will it join the myriad others who have failed in the attempt?
The bones of the plot are certainly intriguing. Young newlyweds Isaac and Emma Pickman (Ludovic Hughes and Sophie Stevens) who have been living in America, return to a remote Norwegian Island after the death of Isaac’s mother. Their goal is to quickly sell Isaac’s childhood home (seen mysteriously in a brief, arresting prologue) then return home so that Emma can give birth to their first child. Yet Isaac is soon drawn into the mysterious cult of the local community. Emma quickly finds herself trapped and unable to escape as her husband gets sucked deeper and deeper into the sinister forces that govern the island…
Never mind H.P. Lovecraft. Sacrifice’s plot, based around remote islands, ancient cults and sinister residents (and oh, that title as well) most strongly resembles the 1973 horror classic The Wicker Man. Yet unfortunately Sacrifice’s tantalising potential of combining elements of the best of horror cinema and literature falls flat at the first hurdle.
Everything unravels around ten minutes in, when Emma and Isaac visit a local bar. Intent on ordering dinner, Isaac soon finds himself in an argument with the belligerent bar owner and a local. What should have been a scene laced with tension and threat swiftly descends into farce, aided by some truly atrocious dialogue and a bizarre tone that makes you unsure if you are watching a horror film or a comedy. Isaac tries to order Calamari in such a threatening voice you wonder if he might he carrying a gun under his coat, after which everyone gets in a heated discussion if Calamari is actually a fish at all (it’s not, in case you were wondering). It is an appalling scene that almost derails the film, shredding any credibility it established through its simply effective opening.
It is doubtful if Sacrifice ever recovers after this. Despite the best efforts of Barbara Crampton (revisiting Lovecraft adaptations after Re-Animator and The Beyond) as the sinister leader of the island’s druid like cult, Sacrifice is devoid of almost any redeeming features, consistently hobbled by clunky, on the nose dialogue and plot holes, among other bizarre decisions. A garish lighting scheme baths almost all the sets in vivid reds, oranges and purples that make you believe that the inhabitants of the island have run out of ordinary tungsten light bulbs. Most frustratingly of all, the film never manages to justify exactly why Isaac wants to stay. The film rarely makes use of its stunning locations to highlight the island’s natural beauty and the only friends he seems to make are two misogynists from the local bar. Screenwriter (and co-director) Tor Mian attempts to legitimise Isaac’s decision by suggesting that he wants to re-connect to his past roots (in contrast the soulless existence he has been living in America) but this reason fails to ever fully convince. When Emma asks what he sees in the island to make him want to stay, you find yourself in complete agreement.
Even when Sacrifice aims for horror it misses spectacularly, mainly due to the directors playing the same hand over and over again. Horror fans are no doubt familiar with the trope of a character experiencing something unnerving or horrific, only, right at the last moment, for them to wake up and phew, it was just a dream! Well, Sacrifice plays that trick ad nauseam. I don’t know if it was due to a simple lack of imagination or whether the filmmaker’s were trying to suggest that the mysterious presence on the island causes these nightmares…either way, the constant repetition serves to undermine what should have been Sacrifice’s most memorable and horrific moments.
Some of the performances save the film from being a complete disaster. Sophie Stevens manages to efficiently capture her character’s initial incredulity then outright fear as she watches her husband get drawn deeper and deeper into the cult and Barbara Crampton is sinisterly charismatic throughout.
Yet they are not enough to redeem all that is going on around them. By the time the fairly predictable twist rolls around, Sacrifice has ensured that, when it comes to Lovecraft inspired adaptions, it will be consigned to the deep and forgotten, like so many others that have come before.
Sacrifice is realised on digital on the 15th March via 101 Films