British folk-horror gets a change of scenery and some Lovecraftian overtones. RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES investigates Sacrifice 2020
Released: March 15th 2021 (UK)
Cast: Ludovic Hughes, Sophie Stevens, Barbara Crampton
Directors: Andy Collier and Tor Mian
Isaac Pickman (Hughes), with his pregnant wife Emma (Stevens) returns to his birthplace on a remote Norwegian island following the death of his mother. The intention is to settle affairs and sell up the old family home, but as the two become enveloped in the local community Isaac seems increasingly reluctant to leave.
Meanwhile, Emma can’t wait to escape but convincing Isaac is another matter: the locals seem to have taken quite a shine to him, especially police officer and municipal matriarch Renate Nygard (Crampton) who oversees local rituals that celebrate a strange deity, one said to live in the sea…
An interesting twist on the British folk-horror tradition here, as a UK production team transplant it to Norway (from Paul Kane’s Yorkshire-set story) but many of its ingredients remain intact: initially hostile locals, mysterious regional customs, isolation with little hope of escape… The familiar brew is spiced up with a stylistic interloper in the shape of HP Lovecraft’s influence in some hallucinatory dream sequences and a scene-setting, very purple title sequence which recalls the opening of classic Lovecraft adaptation From Beyond (1985).
Speaking of that particular film, Sacrifice boasts one of its alumnus in the cast, namely Barbara Crampton (also of Re-Animator fame), and whilst it might initially seem jarring to see her cast as a Norwegian police officer any reservations are quickly swept away: Crampton has clearly done her homework and blends in perfectly with the native supporting players, and it’s a nice addition to the more mature horror roles she’s been gaining in a second burst of genre activity over the last decade.
Ludovic Hughes and Sophie Stevens do good work in their lead roles, as what initially appears to be Isaac’s story increasingly shifts its focus to Emma’s attempts to reconcile her love for her husband with her need to get away from the forces which have him under their thumb.
The Scandinavian setting may well draw comparisons with Midsommar, but I would argue that Sacrifice perhaps treats both its locale and its residents more respectfully than that much lauded effort. Besides all that, Sacrifice is very much its own creature, an enjoyable mix of folk horror tropes and Lovecraftian strangeness which works its way under the skin.
It doesn’t reinvent its outsiders-in-peril-from-local-traditions template and the final, surprisingly underplayed reveal doesn’t come as an earth-shattering shock (the title does what it says on the tin), but that is perhaps to miss the point as Sacrifice is maybe more about the journey than the terminus, the enveloping sense of inevitability signposting a conclusion which is no less emotionally bruising for already being at least partially in sight towards the film’s end. Indeed, it may be more so as we hope against hope for a different outcome for our leads.
There are perhaps too many “it was just a dream!” moments, diluting their effectiveness but all-in-all Sacrifice is a welcome addition to the folk-horror annals which blends in its dashes of Lovecraft to pleasingly disorientating effect.
Sacrifice is released to digital platforms by 101 Films on 15 March 2021.