It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Sacrifice" is a unique kind of very bad movie. The spectacle of this misbegotten thriller is not amusing enough to recommend to fans of casual movie cheesiness, but it’s the filmmaking choices that made me laugh out loud. This movie should be taught in film school—just as Hitchcock movies can teach filmmaking, so can their failed imitators provide us with elementary examples of when technique goes horribly wrong.
Dr. Hamilton (Radha Mitchell) moves to an intimate Scotland island to adopt a baby with her husband Duncan (Rupert Graves) after suffering four miscarriages. One day, she discovers a corpse in her backyard that’s missing a heart and is marked up with strange symbols; she later realizes that the female body must have been killed shortly after giving birth. As she investigates the body and its markings, she faces opposition from the island's patriarchs, who try to convince that she is being paranoid. Soon enough, she gets to the center of a conspiracy involving missing women and a secret father-son society. Right at about the 45-minute mark, Mitchell sums it all up in perfect, disastrous fashion: “All I’m saying is there is something weird going on on this island that you can't just ignore.”
"Sacrifice's" take on suspense is constructed from familiar Hitchcock themes, including an ordinary person flung into paranoia while exploring a secret society, with writer/director Peter A. Dowling hoping that the suspense will be guaranteed by the plot. But he distills everything down to unimaginative information, whether in expository dialogue ("Why the 12 months before we can adopt the baby?"), checkpoint dialogue (“Okay, so you’re going to turn your back on a sacrificial murder?”) or shots that linger on something Very Important (a set of keys). By having no artistry of its own, “Sacrifice” inspires re-appreciation for Hitchcock's craftiness in creating intellectual energy, especially for stories that rely a great deal on both an articulate script and camera.
Cinematographer David Grennan gives a functional aesthetic that makes “Sacrifice” look like a genuine movie, despite many other elements rebelling against this qualification. Because of its direction, the style ends there: when it ventures for an iconic split-diopter shot à la Orson Welles or Hitchcock fanboy Brian de Palma, a scowling man in the left background has no sinister effect while Mitchell, on the other side of the screen and also in the focus, tries to feign uneasiness. The overall vision is so empty that a score by Benedikt Brydern can only provide instructions as to how a scene like a car chase is meant to be thrilling, or its resulting ball of fire a tragedy.