Sacrifice is a strange film. Director Peter A. Dowling treats his audience as if they’d already read author Sharon Bolton’s source novelization, and know exactly what’s going to happen. As soon as Sacrifice rockets straight through a rapid-fire credits sequence filled with foreshadowing images, we know the EXACT movie we’re getting. Nothing is hidden and tension is sparse.
It’s almost as if Dowling has his thumb on the fast-forward button, speeding his film towards an inevitable ending that’s projected more times than we can count. No mystery, no suspense, and certainly no thrills – just wooden, cult generalizations and wasted potential.
Radha Mitchell stars as Dr. Tora Hamilton, a wife who cannot give birth due to recent health complications. Distraught and discouraged, Tora travels to her husband Duncan’s (Rupert Graves) homeland – the Shetland Islands – where they apply to adopt a local child. Since there’s a strict 12-month waiting period, Tora and Duncan settle in for a year-long stay, and Tora begins working at the local hospital. But when Tora uncovers a dead body in their backyard, she begins sleuthing around the all-too-pristine island community. Ancient runes, coincidental deaths, urban legends – there’s something strange going on, and Tora takes it upon herself to uncover just what that “something” is.
From square one, Dowling establishes Dr. Hamilton as a nosy main character who just can’t help herself from waging a war against social injustice. Where other characters might become discouraged, or wisen up after digging too deep, Dr. Hamilton continues to jeopardize numerous lives by pursuing the truth. She breaks into locked rooms, stealthily snoops (in heels), and never once thinks about consequential reactions.
In other words, Dr. Hamilton is a horrendous cliché who immediately threatens an entire civilized ecosystem as a mouthy outsider, and never thinks twice. She’s an inquisitive heroine to a fault, bumbling around a clear-cut genre film like a helpless, doe-eyed fawn.
Radha Mitchell does her best to salvage Dr. Hamilton as a leading lady, accounting for curiosity through charisma. Where most other characters are thickly-accented natives sporting twirly white mustaches, Mitchell takes to her American fish-out-of-water persona with a strong presence. Rupert Graves, meanwhile, doesn’t have much to do, and Joanne Crawford pops up as Dr. Hamilton’s partner-in-crime (even though she’s an actual Sergent), but other than that, supporting characters are simply red herrings who hide absolutely nothing. Like we’re supposed to believe David Robb’s stoic Irish figure and deceptive hospitality isn’t suppressing something more sinister? Most actors have a horrible propensity for revealing their character’s true intentions in a matter of words throughout Sacrifice, which zaps advancing bouts of tension like a high-score run in Space Invaders.
Atmospherically, Dowling’s team does right by filming heavily in Shetland. The luscious greenery of untouched grassy meadows works to liven up deader scenes, and big, Victorian-style mansions provide an obvious, yet fitting backdrop for Elks-Club-like cult activities. The hospital could have used a little more definition, but the local charms of Shetland’s foggy seclusion play directly into Dr. Hamilton’s paranoia. Shetland feels like a place where murderous acts of brutality can be hidden for years – only to be exposed by one pesky lady.
The problem with Sacrifice is that Dowling shows his hand far too early. Every aspect of the filmmaking process – from editing to musical composition – fails to cultivate genuine chills, and simply speeds through a by-the-numbers investigation without mystery. It’s formulaic to a shockingly definitionless degree, and does nothing to advance a subgenre ripe with familial horrors.
Sacrifice finds itself lost amongst movies like Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Tree, Wake Wood, Devil’s Due, and many, many other thematic films that achieved a more lasting impact (for better or worse). It’s neither remarkable enough to be praised, nor butchered enough to be lambasted. Peter A. Dowling’s latest effort merely exists in a weightless genre vacuum that executes on basic levels, but never reaches cinematic enlightenment. I’d suggest you stimulate your brain with something a bit more involved, unless by-the-numbers dreariness is more your speed.
Sacrifice is a bland piece of cultist lore that does little to generate thrills, chills, or the slightest hint of curiosity.