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Director: Peter A. Dowling
Writers: Sharon Bolton (novel),Peter A. Dowling (screenplay)
Stars: Radha Mitchell, Rupert Graves, Ian McElhinney
Dr. Tora Hamilton (Radha Mitchell) has lost another baby, her fourth miscarriage, and so she and her husband Duncan (Rupert Graves) move to a small Scottish island with plans to adopt. Not long after, on their property, Tora notices one of their horses has died and so using a farm backhoe, begins to dig a pit. She unearths a corpse several feet buried in the mud. Police arrive and discover the female body has had her heart carved out of her chest and odd markings etched into her flesh. Investigators tell her it’s nothing and try to cover it up, but Tora is suspicious, especially after she examines the woman and learns that she had given birth just before her brutal death. Researching the odd symbols on the body’s skin, she notices they are similar to other rune writings strewn about the island, including parts of her home. It’s not long before she suspects an ancient legend about men and their sons and mothers being sacrificed and a modern conspiracy where women are falling victim to a horrible tradition.
Directed by Peter A. Dowling, Sacrifice tells an interesting story with a genuinely noble and compelling hero. Dr. Hamilton’s persistent and unwavering belief is a staple of the this kind of film and Mitchell does her right. Unfortunately, the movie is a hopelessly mundane and elemental production, laid out like a how-to instructional video on basic movie making. Characters speak out loud when they are alone, telling us what they are doing, the camera fixates on every conceivable piece of evidence, and the plot manufactures one contrived moment of ‘suspense’ after another. On top of that, a generic police-procedural television electronic score pulses over it all.
It starts out well enough, with some nice cinematography and two likable leads. It then stumbles quickly as the paper thin script doles out expositional dialog and scenes as if trying to meet a quota. There is no sense of creativity to the production, the filmmakers more interested in following the genre playbook than giving any frame in the movie even the slightest bit of craft. There is not one original shot in the film as it regurgitates scenes we’ve seen dozens upon dozens of times before in better movies, mistakingly assuming suspense is pavlovian and if we see a person rifling through a filing cabinet in a dark office while someone nefariously cast in shadow approaches we’ll automatically feel tension. No. In fact it only inspires laughter.
This is just one of what feels like an endless barrage of tired clichéd imagery, including a candle-lit bathroom with a couple lounging in the tub, a locked secret room (also lit by candles even though no one is there) filled with all the clues laid out in perfect symmetry, an elderly crackpot at the local tavern who speaks in gibberish and conveniently sees the hero reading something that he knows all about, a character who speaks of menacing warnings who is set up to be bad but of course isn’t, and many many more. By the time we come to the ending atop a seaside cliff, there’s just nothing that is going to save it from there. And ask yourself why the man with the gun puts himself behind the kneeling woman with the knife. The answer is obvious.
All of this feels like too many people were involved in the production and editing of the movie. While Mitchell and Graves come out relatively unscathed, their performances the most grounded and affecting, there is nothing left that has any value beyond its absurdity. It doesn’t even have the appeal of some hokey fun, wasting its chance for some good pokes at the cult-genre by taking itself far too seriously. The only real sacrifice is the time you’ll lose in watching this disappointing thriller.