FrightFest Halloween Sacrifice (2020)
Colours out of space7
Folk horror vs Lovecraft7
Menacing sense of entrapment7
Anton Bitel | On 22, Oct 2020
Director: Andy Collier, Toor Mian
Cast: Sophie Stevens, Ludovic Hughes, Barbara Crampton, Lukas Loughran, Johanna Adde Dahl
Watch Sacrifice online in the UK: FrightFest Halloween
At the heart of Sacrifice is a painting of a man on a tiny vessel, its tattered sails surrounded by monstrous waves. This image of being lost at sea will come to pervade both the film and its reception, as writer/directors Andy Collier and Toor Mian (Charismata, 2017) compound irrationalities and anxieties to bring a disorienting sense of doom. It is the painting’s odd tinges of the colour purple, though, that really draw the eye.
In fact Sacrifice opens with colour, as billowing clouds of vivid blues, yellows, greens, purples and reds resolve in an image of blood being hurriedly washed down a kitchen sink by a panicking woman. Speaking Norwegian, she wakes her young son and flees with him by boat – and then we cut to 25 years later as Isaac (Ludovic Hughes) recrosses those waters with his heavily pregnant wife Emma (Sophie Stevens). After the recent death of his mother, Isaac has returned from the US to reclaim his legacy – the home on a remote island in Norway where he once lived with both his parents. Initially the plan is to sell on the property, but Isaac learns what happened to his father from sheriff-cum-religious priestess Renate (the great Barbara Crampton – wait till you hear her say the word “murder”). As he comes to recognise that the community’s water-worshipping culture is part of his own blood heritage, Emma has a succession of vivid nightmares and starts to wonder if they ever will, or even can, leave.
Much as Isaac becomes conflicted between his mostly forgotten Norse origins and his American upbringing – he even has two separate surnames (Pickman/Jorsted) to mark his duality – Sacrifice too comes divided in its influences. Adapted from Paul Kane’s short story Men of the Cloth (whose events are here relocated to the fjords from their original English setting), the film is certainly folk horror, as the village, with its creepy totems, peculiar pagan practices and seductive temptresses, sits somewhere on the map between The Wicker Man and Midsommar. Yet all the ancient sea gods, tentacular visions, Cthulhu-like effigies, and the dominance of unearthly purples and oranges – extending beyond the night sky’s aurora borealis to the film’s interior palettes – all point to the cosmic horror of HP Lovecraft (expressly acknowledged in opening text as an inspiration alongside Kane).
So like those swirling, blending colours in the film’s opening sequence, Sacrifice offers a blurring of identities and genres, all of which combine to create a pretty, multi-hued picture, but also confuse – and lose – the viewer in wave after wave of community conspiracy and mystic manipulation.
Sacrifice streamed at FrightFest Halloween 2020 at 6pm on 22nd October.