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Sacrifice

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Apr 29, 2016
'Sacrifice'
'Sacrifice'  

Horror fans of the "Small Town With Secrets" genre will eat up the Peter A. Dowling-directed screen version of Sharon Bolton's novel "Sacrifice."

After a miscarriage, Dr. Tora Hamilton (Radha Mitchell), a New York City doctor specializing in pregnancies, relocates to the Shetland Islands with her husband Duncan (Rupert Graves). Why the Shetland Islands, a remote area a hundred miles off the Scottish coast? Well, that's where Duncan hails from. Also, it makes for a great locale for a horror movie, what with its craggy seaside scenery and its isolation. (Also, where else could you credibly reference brutal bladed violence in a common domestic setting, except in a place where people eat haggis?)

No sooner have the couple settled in -- with Tora taking a job at the local cutting-edge medical facility that her wealthy, influential father-in-law has built -- than strange things start happening, triggered by Tora's discovery of a human body buried in the peaty soil of their property. The local pathologist (Conor Mullen) assures Tora that the body (dubbed "Jane Doe" by local law enforcement) is probably hundreds of years old, but Tora suspects that the victim died much more recently. Worse, she realizes after looking at some X-rays that the victim had given birth shortly before her death.

And are those runes carved into the body's earthy flesh, tanned by the peat? The medical examiner takes those markings as another sign that the body is of ancient provenance. But when the local drunk catches sight of the runes, which Tora has copied and studies over lunch one day, he claims a knowledge of them and says he could translate their meaning for her.

As Tora digs deeper into the mystery of the Jane Doe, she begins to suspect there's a community-wide web of silence and intrigue involving a sinister orphanage, the hospital, and maybe even the police -- with a conspiracy of (you guessed it) privileged white guys running the show while women pay the price. Tora's one ally in her quest for the truth is a female police detective named Dana Tulloch (Joanne Crawford). True to the film's richly contrived plot Dana is pregnant, and might be next among the victims of an ancient religious cult.

This movie is straight-ahead horror fun, with little in the way of justification or apology. The velocity (and the campy, winking revelry) starts with the opening credits, which are brief, crowded with images of mist and knives and other genre trademarks, and accompanied by propulsive "Halloween"-type music. The action roars along, with jump cuts favored over exposition and predictable plot points blurring by like a cartoon flip-book: The faster the pages turn, the more vigorously animated the crude drawing seems to jump and dance.

The film also wears its influences proudly on its sleeve. There are bits and traces of everything from White Guys Control Everything flicks like "The Skulls" and "The Firm" to Imperiled Woman cheese like "Crowhaven Farm" to Sinister Little Community guilty pleasures like "The People" and "The Wicker Man." There are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing, even if you pretty much already know from the outset where this dark and treacherous narrative road is going to take you.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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