If there is one thing a Norwegian knows how to do, it’s to navigate. - Barbara Crampton in Sacrifice.
The first time my (Norwegian) dad visited the US, he got in the drive-through line at McDonald’s thinking it was the freeway on-ramp. Take the venerable Ms. Cramption’s typecasting for what it’s worth, in other words.
That’s not to say Sacrifice, a Lovecraft-inspired folk-horror story set on a remote Norwegian island, bases itself on stereotypes and folklore. Instead, we get free-flowing fantasies not grounded in any sort of history but which form an entirely fictional community and plot.
We follow Sophie (Emma Pickman) and Isaac (Ludovic Hughes), who have inherited an old house on the island. Here they find an insulated society, one that worships an ancient sea deity. As the inhabitants learn who Isaac’s deceased father is – a high-standing member of the cult – their interest in him grows, and they steadily indoctrinate Isaac into their religion. If you have watched any folk horror before – say Midsommar or The Wicker Man – you probably have an idea where this goes. (If not: nowhere good.)
I like Sacrifice’s concept, but the execution is shaky. There are monologues – many, many monologues – of Miami Connection proportions, often delivered with a gusto bordering on screaming. Ludovic Hughes, in particular, is so over-the-top it seems like he’s acting under duress.
On the flip-side, Emma Pickman delivers a nuanced performance of a pregnant woman who sees the island for what it is. Her premonitions are shown through dream sequences, some eerie, others outlandish – still, props to Pickman for wholeheartedly delivering on them wholesale.
Crampton, here the island sheriff-slash-cult-leader, equally goes all in, even putting on a more than passable Norwegian-speaking-English accent. That’s more difficult than many would realize. Most who attempt it end up sounding North Dakotan, which is barely comparable to the real thing. Subtleties like that add just a hint of gravitas; Crampton actually took the time to work with a dialect coach to prepare for her role.
The rest of the islanders are, for lack of a better description, not very Norwegian. Screaming at Americans that Vikings, not Columbus, discovered America is bizarre and something that wouldn’t happen in any scenario. I would also wager most Americans already know that piece of trivia.
Misgivings aside, there are things to like about Sacrifice. The more dreamlike sequences – ironically ones that aren’t dreams – are nicely shot in saturated purples fitting the Lovecraftian themes. The story flows adeptly through most of the ninety minutes, and while a twist ending is par the course for folk horrors, Sacrifice delivers an unexpected one. The film is rarely boring, just too often over the top: There is a movie in there that is better than the adequate one that is Sacrifice.
I’m not sure I would recommend buying or renting the film unless you’re a steadfast fan of folk horror. As someone who truly does enjoy the genre, I did ultimately appreciate the story and the majority of the performances. For anyone else, Sacrifice will likely be worth a watch when it inevitably hits streaming services.
Letterboxd summary: Isaac and his pregnant wife visit a remote Norwegian village to claim an unexpected inheritance. The couple finds themselves caught in a nightmare when they encounter a sinister cult that worships a sea-dwelling deity.
Ratings from around the web
|One Star Classics||3/6|