Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Sacrifice builds with a slow, gentle rhythm, like the waves rolling up against the shore."

A refreshingly classy piece of folk horror which focuses on character and atmosphere rather than relying on shocks, Sacrifice was one of the more interesting selections for Frightfest's October 2020 edition. A loose adaptation of the Paul Kane novella Men Of the Cloth, it's also heavily influenced by the work of HP Lovecraft, especially The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and it draws on the idea of lingering ancient traditions which fits very neatly into the Norwegian setting. It does have a few things in common with the recent Midsommar, but not the things you might expect.

Isaac (Ludovic Hughes) has come into an inheritance. The journey to claim it takes him back to the small island where he was born, and which his mother took him away from in early childhood after a shocking incident which he will only now begin to understand. His heavily pregnant wife Emma (Sophie Stevens) is less enthusiastic about the trip, especially after their first encounter with the locals - two men in a bar who enjoy winding up and intimidating Americans, stopping only when they realise who Isaac is. A subsequent incident with local police chief Renate (Barbara Crampton) makes her even more uncomfortable, and the welcome dinner which follows doesn't resolve things as Renate hoped. But the more ill at ease Emma feels, the more Isaac seems drawn to the traditions of the village, beginning to talk about making it their permanent home.

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What are those traditions? There are little things, like the manufacture of memorial figurines for the dead. Then there's talk of The Slumbering One, whom Renate describes as sort of local deity in the same way that one might talk about Father Christmas in front of a child, not necessarily implying belief. The locals hold ceremonies connected with the seashore. Emma accepts that lots of places have odd little traditions. It's Isaac's growing obsession that worries her, and his increasing disinclination to factor her concerns into the planning he does for the both of them - soon to be three.

Sacrifice builds with a slow, gentle rhythm, like the waves rolling up against the shore. Images of water are everywhere, the sea just on the edge of our vision or just within earshot, reminding us of how cut off our protagonists are. Crampton's performance has a gentleness to it that feels just a little bit too reassuring. Stevens does the heavy lifting. She's increasingly emotionally fraught. Is it due to Isaac's behaviour, is it a hormonal effect of the pregnancy, or is something really wrong? Each time she thinks she has it figured out, there's somebody on hand to gaslight her.

There are two kinds of horror in Lovecraft's work. One concerns the impact of recognising the vastness and strangeness of the universe, and one's own meaninglessness. The other concerns what belief can drive human beings to do. Sacrifice has a flavour of the former but ultimately depends more on the latter, and finds it in the most intimate places. It's not just about the actions people take; it's about the idea that, step by step, one might get used to them.

Cool, breezy, surprisingly unpretentious, this is a mature take on a subgenre that's notoriously difficult to serve well. It discovers the alien within the familiar, inviting complicity, even sympathy, as the waves keep on rolling.

Reviewed on: 22 Oct 2020
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After the death of his mother, Isaac and his pregnant wife Emma return to the remote Norwegian island of his birth to deal with an unexpected inheritance.

Director: Andy Collier, Toor Mian

Writer: Andy Collier, Paul Kane

Starring: Barbara Crampton, Sophie Stevens, Ludovic Hughes, Lucas Loughran, Johanna Adde Dahl

Year: 2021

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: UK


Frightfest 2020

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