Sacrifice is the story of consultant surgeon, Tora Hamilton, who moves with her husband, Duncan, to the remote Shetland Islands, 100 miles off the north-east coast of Scotland. Deep in the peat soil around her new home, Tora discovers the body of a young woman with rune marks carved into her skin and a gaping hole where her heart once beat. Ignoring warnings to leave well alone, Tora uncovers terrifying links to a legend that might never have been confined to the pages of the story-books.
April 29th, 2016
Peter A. Dowling (screenplay)
Sharon Bolton (novel)
Peter A. Dowling
It’s been a common occurrence in my reviews to point out and celebrate the oh-so-common “Nancy Drew bit” (when appropriate) and to then give proper credit to Kevin Tenney’s classic ‘80s horror flick Witchboard, when doing so. And so many films have this usual investigative scene — wherein the hero/heroine discovers some terrible history or incriminating evidence to move the story along and provide important exposition — that the overuse of this catchy phrase is constantly warranted. But most films contain perhaps one scene.
Well, how about an entire film of nothing but “Nancy Drew bits” – one after the other? If that’s what gets your motor running, then perhaps the forthcoming thriller, Sacrifice will strike your fancy. Granted this film is more in line with a typical mystery, but it still felt like a constant barrage of what were meant to be jarring discoveries.
Sacrifice stars Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black, Silent Hill) and Rupert Graves (of the current ABC television program,The Family and many Merchant/Ivory flicks of the ‘80s). The screenplay is written by Peter A. Dowling, who also takes on directing duties here. He previously penned the script for the Jodie Foster thriller, Flightplan.
Dr. Tora Hamilton (Mitchell) moves to the remote Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland with her husband Duncan Guthrie (Graves) to adopt a child. Tora recently had a miscarriage back in the states, so this is a last resort to finally add a child to their family. Duncan’s powerful and comfortably wealthy family live on the island, so Tora and Duncan’s immediate comfort (a home, new jobs, and a speedy adoption) is a no-brainer. But once the body of a young woman is discovered on their land – well-preserved and with her leathery flesh covered in some sort of ancient lettering – the mystery begins.
Sadly, the stunning landscapes and exquisite production values can’t overcome what is truly a cookie-cutter tale. The film offers little in the way of suspense, build or anticipation. It merely charts this oft-taken story course and fails to divert from such a cliché direction.
However, performances are all strong here, with Mitchell taking center stage. As in all of her films, I find her to be a competent and engaging actor, but in Sacrifice, she’s not given much to do, so frankly, it feels as though her talents are wasted. Whether her Dr. Hamilton is running away from a would-be assailant, bonding with Sgt. Dana Tulloch (a great supporting performance from Joanne Crawford) or engaging in her never-ending uncovering of clues, Mitchell does deliver a strong performance, despite having to maneuver through what is an underwritten character.
As for the other lead, Rupert Graves has long been a personal favorite for films like Maurice and A Room with a View, but his character in Sacrifice, also leaves him peddling about in this character’s guise with no big moments and little character development. His character’s 180-degree turnabout toward the end isn’t all that impressive or shocking – his Duncan takes a route opposite of Guy Woodhouse’s (John Cassavetes in Rosemary’s Baby) — but even that contrast/comparison can’t lift the character up from the doldrums of “meh”.
The film’s short prologue, introducing us immediately to Tora’s horrifying dealings with a tragic miscarriage, fail to gain any strength for later use in the story. The story takes Tora to this remote island adoption agency/maternity ward off the coast of their own home, but Mitchell’s performance, and indeed the story itself, never make it clear or believable. Certainly, the trials and tribulations of motherhood can gain lots of mileage and sympathy in any story, but in Sacrifice, it doesn’t take hold or justify Tora’s obsessiveness over the events which unfold before her. Perhaps that was not intended, but setting it up so quickly that she is a grieving would-be mother and then not following through, seems like a misstep and a missed opportunity. In the end, it feels as though those early events are meant to get her to the Shetland Islands, and nothing more.
Speaking of that strange facility which is at the center of the film’s mystery, I was reminded of the Michael Crichton film Coma (based on the novel by Robin Cook). I found some striking similarities in the location’s sterility and cold and oppressive atmosphere to the Michael Douglas starrer, as Tora infiltrates the state-of-the-art facility. When this sequence began, I could think of nothing else.
While the film has a slight supernatural edge (very slight), it’s definitely a by-the-numbers crime mystery thriller. I think that a deeper look into the history of the ancient sect of men at the film’s center would have been more interesting than what we were given here. And cashing in on what could have been a possible supernatural twist may have given the film a little extra oomph.
Sacrifice is not big on scares, but there is a fun (but again, not terribly suspenseful) chase scene somewhere during the mid-point as Tora is pursued through the late-night deserted hospital – during one of her many, many investigative sequences. And the few makeup effects (namely the grotesque corpse of the discovered woman) are impressive and presented with little fanfare, thus cementing a more realistic tone for the film.
There are actually some exciting car chases, lovely landscapes and competent performances, but the lack of urgency and the overwhelming use of the aforementioned “Nancy Drew bits” don’t do much to warrant anything but an average-scored review.
Sacrifice will be released on April 29th in theatres. It’s not something I’m recommending you rush out and see, but if you happen to find it floating around in a Redbox machine (eventually) or see it flash by on your Netflix queue (eventually), it may be worthy of a pseudo-sacrifice of 90 of your movie-going minutes.