Starring: Radha Mitchell, Joanne Crawford, Rupert Graves, Robert McElhinney
Not Rated (Probable R for Disturbing Violent Content including Grisly Images and Rituals, and for Brief Language)
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to find a movie like "Sacrifice" on Netflix. It has a formula plot, adequate performances and pedestrian direction. It is also plagued by plot holes that only increase in size and quantity the longer the film goes on. The film is only 90 minutes long, which I guess I should be thankful for. I won't say I was ever truly bored, but I will say that this is not a good movie.
Dr. Tora Hamilton (Mitchell) is an obstetrician living in New York. When a medical emergency prevents her from having children, she and her husband Duncan (Graves) relocate to rural Scotland to be with his family. She can resume her practice with less hustle and bustle, and with the help of her in-laws, she and Duncan can adopt a child and raise a family. But when she uncovers a long buried body in her backyard, she begins to suspect that something very fishy is going on in this tiny island community.
Problem number one: I didn't know who was who in this story. The leads are established okay, but the supporting characters are not. Director Peter A. Dowling never develops the local townsfolk enough to the point when the characters are talking about them, we know who they are. That's a fatal flaw for any movie, perhaps never more so than in an Agatha Christie wannabe.
Problem number two: The story is pure formula. I've often defended formula movies provided they are well-constructed. That's not the case here. This is obviously made by a crew who had little grasp of what they were doing, and the screenplay takes no chances. Sure, there are one or two interesting details, but the part they play in the story is so ordinary. There are so many other movies that have done this same story to much better effect. And to avoid spoilers for anyone who still wants to bother with this movie (not recommended), I won't list them.
Problem number three: The film looks and feels blander than tofu. In addition to having a routine mystery plot, it's shot by an amateur. Dowling has one other directorial credit to his name, and that was 8 years before this movie. Not a good sign. It's not hard to see why studios are reluctant to hand him a screenplay. Shot selection is bland, the cinematography is as routine as possible, and there's no specificity to any of the characters or the story. When you're making a formula movie, or any kind of movie, the details matter. They develop the characters and make the setting come alive. Those things are essential for a movie to work. "Sacrifice" has none of these things.
If there's anything positive I can say about this movie, is that the performances are strong enough to prevent this from ever becoming painful. Thank God for Radha Mitchell. A mainstay on the indie film circuit, Mitchell is more than capable of holding her own in genre pictures like "Silent Hill." She's too smart for the screenplay she was given and adjusts her efforts accordingly (read: she sleepwalks through it), but she's still an adequate anchor for this movie. Rupert Graves and Joanne Crawford provide solid support, too, but this is her show. The villains, when unmasked, are lacking. They're not creepy enough. They're straight out of the storeroom or writer's clichés, and it hurts the film considerably. Especially since the film could have been so much more.