Sacrifice is the latest horror film to be released that draws inspiration from the work of H.P. Lovecraft, though in this case it’s less running away from otherworldly tentacle monsters, and more of a slow building psychological horror that will work its way under your skin.
Based upon the short story ‘Men of Cloth’ by horror writer Paul Kane, the film sees young married couple Isaac (Ludovic Hughes) and Emma (Sophie Stephens) travelling to a remote Norwegian island when Isaac’s mother dies. Travelling to settle the estate and sell the house that Isaac hasn’t seen since he was a small boy, the couple begin to discover things about the island they could never have imagined.
Whilst Isaac begins to explore his family history, including the fact that his father was murdered in their home, and learning about the strange cultural practices of the island, Emma begins to have an increasingly awful time. Desperate to get off the island before she’s too pregnant to fly back to the US, she begins to experience strange nightmares and disturbing visions that she at first blames on her anxieties but begins to suspect might be connected to something bigger. As Isaac seems to slip further away from her and begins to embrace the islanders, Emma is left alone to face the horrors that surround her.
At first I thought that Sacrifice would be Isaac’s story, as it’s about him returning to the island where he was born, and discovering more and more about his past, but it soon becomes apparent that the real focus of the film is Emma, played exceptionally well by Sophie Stephens. Emma seems to be the only person who can see the strange effect that everything is having on her husband, and is the only rational voice on the island. It’s an interesting subversion that I wasn’t expecting, as most horror films in the vein would tend to focus on the male lead in this scenario, having to fight to save his pregnant wife from the horrors just below the surface.
I think this is one of the things that the film does really well, subverting your expectations, and directors Andy Collier and Tor Mian do a good job of weaving a narrative that feels both familiar and very new. You’re able to predict certain steps the story takes, but never the final destination, and even those parts you do manage to predict happen ever so slightly differently to how you expect them to go. This is one of the things that’s quite common in cosmic horror, especially those based around Lovecraft’s work. As mentioned earlier, the original story was written by Paul Kane, who’s well known for his unusual, cosmic horror, and who has written some great stories inspired by Lovecraft, and you can definitely tell that this story comes from a place of love for the source material, and that the filmmakers wanted to create something that would appeal to those kinds of fans.
This seems to extend to the casting, with horror veteran Barbara Crampton appearing in the film in the role of local police officer Renate. No stranger to Lovecraftian horror, Crampton is a cult favourite thanks to her work on films such as From Beyond and Re-Animator. Her inclusion instantly evokes memories of these films, and lends the production a sense of legacy as it includes such a popular horror actor. She’s not just a throwaway piece of stunt casting though, as she delivers a stunning performance as the sinister yet lovely Renate, a character who you’re never sure if you should trust or not. It’s also clear that she put a lot of work into her Norwegian accent, and sounds phenomenal next to the other Norwegian actors, never once feeling out of place or fake.
Sacrifice does a great job of building tension and keeping the audience in suspense. It will throw nightmare sequences and strange visions at you until you’re questioning whether what you’re seeing is going to be real or not, much like the characters. It’s got some damn good performances in it, even from characters with very minor parts who are only in one or two scenes. It looks beautiful thanks to its location shoots, and really evokes feelings of isolation and horror in its audience. Whether you’re a fan of Lovecraft or not, there’s a lot to love with this film, and is definitely one you should be seeking out.
Sacrifice is out now on Digital release.