Ti West’s newest film, The Sacrament, was screened in the Cult section at the 57th BFI London Film Festival. I sat down with the director over tea and scones to discuss his latest film, semantics, Eli Roth and whether he has ambitions to direct beyond the horror genre
What was the inspiration behind telling this story?
I wanted to do something steeped in realism, a horror movie that dealt with no supernatural elements whatsoever. I wanted to make a horrific movie as apposed to a horror movie. I also wanted to make a documentary, but I didn’t have any interesting ideas. So I wrote something that I was interested in making a documentary about, and made that. I’ve always been fascinated by the Jonestown massacre, so I kind of made up my own version of that.
Is The Sacrament a found footage film or a fake documentary?
This is semantics but it’s more documentary than it is found footage, which I know sounds like semantics, but think of it this way, nobody calls Christopher Guest movies, found footage movies. They call them mockumentaries but if you call this a mockumentary it sounds weird because it’s a horror movie.
It’s an after-the-fact put-together documentary; it doesn’t necessarily matter, but it’s wrong to call it found footage because it implies that the movie starts with finding a tape.
The Sacrament is produced by Eli Roth, what influence, if any, did he have on the finished film?
He [Eli Roth] was a great producer, in the sense that Eli and I have been friends for about ten year. I was at his birthday party talking about what I was going to do next and I brought up this ‘Vice-guide to Jonestown idea’, and he was like, ‘well, we’re looking to make another movie after The Last Exorcism and I can get that made’.
And then he did, based upon that brief synopsis, and we were able to make the movie very quickly.
Creatively, what was great about Eli, that being a filmmaker himself, being that he’s a big personality and to some people, so am I, it was like, who knows how this is going to work. Is it going to be like, oh he wants to make my movie an Eli Roth movie -couldn’t be further from the truth! He stayed at arms length away the whole time and he was like, ‘if you need anything call me, otherwise do your thing’, and I think that’s the kind of producer you want.
He was like, ‘I’m going to set you up with whatever you need to make your movie and I want to help make your movie, not influence the making of your movie’. So I would show him cuts of the movie and he would give me some notes, maybe I’d take them maybe I wouldn’t, but it was never like, ‘you got to make it more like this’, that is not his style, it was very much, ‘do your thing and I like your movies, I trust that you know what you’re doing, if you say you know what you’re doing -do it!’
And that’s what you want, somebody who will creatively protect you, and, he had final cut of the movie, which essentially meant I did, because he never enforced anything on me.
The Sacrament seems to signal a goodbye to the horror genre, is that the case?
This is the last one [horror film] for a while. I have a stack of things I’m going to do next (hopefully) and none of them are horror. I have several ideas but which idea gets made first depends upon on the money. I made six horror movies (seven if you include the anthologies) in a row, in less than ten years -that’s a lot of horror! At this point I would just end up repeating myself, which is what I don’t want to do. If I’m going to spend time struggling to make another movie, I would rather do something that I’m passionate about and at the moment, I just don’t have anything else to say with horror movies.
The Sacrament’s release date is TBA.