David Creed tells a familiar story with his feature-length debut as writer and director, Sacrilege. It is another folk horror tale about how a pagan ritual may or may not be messing with the heads of well-meaning, fun-seeking interlopers. Does the filmmaker tread any new ground here? Or does he at least go over the well-worn narrative with a sense of style and fun?
Kayla (Tamaryn Payne) is flustered and angry at the day, as her abuser, Tyler (David English), has been released from prison early. So, along with her friend Stacey (Naomi Willow), she heads out to Blake’s Bar to unwind. The owner, Blake (Sian Abrahams), comes out and joins her pals shortly after they arrive and confesses something: she let it slip to Kayla’s ex, Trish (Emily Wyatt), that they’d all be here. Naturally, Kayla is pissed but, upon seeing Trish, agrees to a weekend getaway to try and reconnect.
Said mini-vacation is to a small village surrounded by the forest, Mabon. On their way there, the foursome picks up Vinnie (Jon Glasgow), a hitchhiker also on his way to Mabon for its annual pagan festival. He convinces Kayla, Trish, Stacey, and Blake to join him there, and soon enough, they are in front of a fire writing their greatest fear on paper. The friends then throw the paper into the fire and start dancing the night away. However, the next day, those fears begin manifesting themselves in deadly ways. Did the ritual actually bring the thing everyone is most scared of to life? Or did the women just get way too high and drunk and are imagining everything?
“Did the ritual actually bring the thing everyone is most scared of to life?”
For a pagan-centric horror flick, Sacrilege is not all that interested in the pagan aspect. The motivations of the person(s) involved are never explored, nor is the motivation for the need to sacrifice these four women ever gleamed. This lack of reasoning will more than likely frustrate several viewers, potentially even the majority. However, the search for the ever-elusive why may blind audience members to what Creed is interested in exploring with his film: one woman’s journey to overcome past trauma and finally have the strength to stand up for herself.
As the main character, Kayla’s arc is crucial to keep viewers engaged. Happily, the filmmaker keeps the focus on her and invests the audience into her plight. Frustratingly, the same can’t be said for the others, as they are all pretty one-note. However, the cast makes the most of what they have to work with. Glasgow is fun in his brief role, while Willow gets a few moments to act against her (imaginary?) fear. Wyatt is easy to hate at first, playing Trish with a distinct coldness. However, that icy demeanor slowly peels back, and the viewers finally get to see what drew Kayla to her in the first place. That change is not the focus, so that it comes through as well as it does is because of the acting.
Of course, Sacrilege is the Kayla show, and Tamaryn Payne delivers. A minor freakout at the bar early on, where she mistakes a random patron for Tyler, is very convincing, as is her forgiving of Trish later. Payne hits all the emotional beats well, ensuring they ring true, even when the plot is not always the clearest.
Sacrilege presents itself as a folk horror production, but that is mere window dressing. As such, the motivations of the ritual, how it operates, and the ultimate endgame of those who put it on remain murky. But, Creed balances that deficit with a fascinating look at what it means to overcome adversity in the face of even greater hardship. Taken in this regard, the filmmaker’s debut works for those looking for something slightly off the beaten path.
"…Tamaryn Payne delivers."