Review: Radha Mitchell in SACRIFICE

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SHOCK reviews the compelling Radha Mitchell thriller SACRIFICE.

Watching a glut of horror films and being open to all of them, one has to be very forgiving. Sure, it’s a thrill to stumble upon a genre film that takes chances and breaks rules and aims to make high art (see recent raves on DARLING, THE LOVE WITCH and THE EYES OF MY MOTHER), not just acceptable product (see almost everything else). But there’s nothing wrong at all with acceptable product. A good pop song is a good pop song, no matter if its derivative or not and it’s the same with cinema. A good movie is a good movie and if you lose yourself for 90 minutes and come out the other side satisfied than that’s a very positive thing.

Such preamble here serves the purpose of setting up writer/director Peter A. Dowling’s new horror thriller SACRIFCE, a folk-horror tinted, dark drama (based on the novel by Sharon Bolton) that mixes a shaggy dog mystery with the madness of child murder and more. Though the title and pedestrian tone of the film is indeed standard issue Netflix-bait fodder, SACRIFICE has a few eccentricities and affectations that elevate it; the result is a quality bit of entertaining, mildly disturbing even, distraction.

Actress Radha Micthell, she of such contemporary horror gems as SILENT HILL, PITCH BLACK and the remake of THE CRAZIES, stars as Dr. Tora Hamilton who, after a post-credits miscarriage, flees to the Shetland Islands in Scotland with her wealthy husband (Rupert Graves) to adopt a local child and find a new start. But when, after an impromptu round of digging in her backyard, Tora discovers the atrophied remains of a young woman, she is thrust into a serpentine mystery, one involving ancient rituals, cancer patient conspiracies, murdered mothers and sacrificed babies.

The “loss of a child” trope is one of the most used and abused McGuffins in horror movie history and the reason is because it works. The relationship between a mother and child is one our last cultural sacred cows and perverting that dynamic is one of the few taboos that, when exploited, still has the power to affect us. So it goes with SACRIFICE. Our point of entry into the story is Mitchell’s Tora and the mourning the loss of her baby as well as her interest in and empathy for the plight of new mothers. It’s what makes her – and us – propel deeper into the secrets of the island, putting herself and any hope for happiness at risk as she doggedly pursues the truth.  And Mitchell, as always, is fantastic, with her square-jawed beauty lending an intelligence and gravitas to the character, making her a worthy and memorable protagonist. We care about her, we identify with her and we let her lead us into the darkness in hopes she’ll make it out alive.

The grim nature of SACRIFICE however isn’t fully realized as this is, after all, a genre movie aimed at a mass audience, glossy and slick and easy to digest. But there’s more than enough horror in its heart to keep you engaged and make the bad guys bad enough that we want to see them fall. The rapturous Shetland Island scenery is also a plus, as are the supporting cast of unfamiliar Scottish actors, giving the movie a more exotic sheen.

Good performances, compelling story, pretty cinematography and a brisk pace make SACRIFCE a solid, inoffensive potboiler worth watching.

IFC Midnight will open  SACRIFICE on April 29th at New York’s IFC Center (the film will also hit all digital platforms on this date) and then on May 6th at LA’s Arena Theatre.