Director Ti West is known primarily for his work as a horror helmer, but with Venice and Toronto title The Sacrament – as well as an upcoming project – he’s taking a turn in a different direction. West’s credits include 2009’s The House Of The Devil, 2011’s The Innkeepers and a segment of 2012’s V/H/S. Although it’s presented by Eli Roth, The Sacrament, which received positive notices here, is not really a straight horror movie. It’s a contemporary found-footage film that tweaks the genre and is “the most realism” West has done, he told me this week. But he’s looking to step even further afield with a script he’s currently writing: He wants to do a “traditional western.”
The inspiration for The Sacrament was the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, a mass-suicide where 909 followers of cult leader Jim Jones were poisoned to death by drinking a concoction laced with cyanide – a gruesome event that coined the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid.” The movie screened this week in the Venice Horizons section and follows a fashion photographer whose sister has joined Eden Parish, a community in an unidentified foreign country. He sets off to visit her with two journalists from VICE who intend to film the goings-on. When they arrive, it gradually becomes clear that this is not just a healthy living center. Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Kentucker Audley, Amy Seimetz and Gene Jones star. Worldview backed the movie and IM Global is handling international sales.
This was West’s first time in Venice where he told me, “Being here it feels like you’re appreciated. There’s respect for filmmaking in a place like this.” He was intrigued by the Jonestown Massacre and wanted to do an updated spin on the story since it’s “something plausible.” West says we “don’t often realize these were not crazy people” who went to Jonestown, they were seeking a way out of desperation. Given the various current world crises, “It should be more talked about. It’s relevant to today.”
West has two projects firing up next, but he’s not sure which one will go first. The previously announced The Side Effect is set in a spaceship where something very strange occurs. If it gets a greenlight, he’ll hop on that one. But in the meantime, he’s also focused on writing the western. He doesn’t want to give too much away, but says it will resemble a traditional 1800s-set Clint Eastwood movie. “There will be no vampires and it won’t be in a haunted town. It’ll be a morality tale.” He plans to reteam with his regular collaborators on the project and says his script should be finished in October.