Sacrifice is overly familiar, Lovecraftian knockoff material that’s a slog to get through even at a short 88 minutes.
The legacy of H.P. Lovecraft looms large over the horror genre, so much so that even works with no stated connection to the old master can’t help but bear his influence. Such is the case with the new film Sacrifice, which, while technically adapted from a short story by Paul Kane, might as well be a remake of Stuart Gordon’s 2001 film Dagon, itself freely adapted from Lovecraft’s short story “Dagon” and novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth. One can’t help but feel like they’ve seen this particular story many times before, so consistently does it hit every expected beat. There’s nary a surprise in sight, and the filmmakers simply can’t figure out a novel way to make this material interesting (or scary). Even someone unfamiliar with Lovecraft’s mythology (or litany of assorted adaptations) would likely balk at the mediocre performances and thin, generic plotting on display here, all of it in service of a film that somehow manages to make its scant 88-minute runtime feel like three hours.
Directed by Andy Collier & Tor Mian, with Mian credited as writer and Collier acting as cinematographer, Sacrifice follows Isaac (Ludovic Hughes) and his very pregnant wife Emma (Sophie Stevens) as they return to Isaac’s ancestral home on a small island in Norway to sell his deceased mother’s old house. Isaac hasn’t been back since he was a child, when he and his mother fled the island in the middle of the night under mysterious circumstances. As Isaac and Emma settle in, they meet some rude locals, as well as the town sheriff, Renate (Barbara Crampton, sporting a questionable accent). Renate informs Isaac that his father was murdered that night, and that she’s been investigating the unsolved case for 25 years. Isaac is shocked by this news, but has no real memory of the events, so instead, uh, accepts Renate’s dinner invitation, where he and Emma (and the audience) are subjected to an inordinate amount of exposition. For such a short film, Sacrifice spends an inexcusable amount of time setting things up, first explaining and then tip-toeing around its central mystery, as Isaac and Emma keep discovering odd things on the island while arguing over whether to stay or go. While Renate initiates Isaac into their local religious customs — they worship an old deity known as “the Slumbering One” — Emma has vivid nightmares about being attacked by Isaac and him stealing their unborn baby.
Why is this cult so interested in Isaac? What were the circumstances surrounding his departure from the island? What’s that mysterious light coming from just beneath the surface of the water? Why is Isaac acting so strange all of a sudden? It’s all pretty obvious, and there’s no real gore or scares to break up the monotony of going through these particular paces yet again. Collier and Mian occasionally come up with an interesting composition, like POV shots from underwater or extreme closeups that break objects down into abstracted smears of light and color. But these moments are few and far between, and much of the film is poorly lit, pallid widescreen photography that overly emphasizes negative space. It’s supposed to be foreboding, but it instead comes across as merely flat and bland. When something finally (finally!) happens in the last five minutes of the film, it’s less excitement at the reveal of some evil master plan than relief that Sacrifice is mercifully almost over. Anyone already vaguely familiar with Lovecraftian lore and Cthulhu mythology will be unimpressed, as will anyone simply looking for a spooky good time.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | February 2021.