Carefree and desperate to avoid any responsibility, Jessica, a college student, visits a yard sale to buy a gift for her best friend. However, the music box she brings home is haunted by a vicious demonic entity eager to feed off the lives of all who hear the box’s melody.
Director: Paul Catalanotto
Writer: Mary Nguyen Catalanotto, Paul Catalanotto, and Mark Twain Williams
Starring: Jenn Foreman, Megan Few, Jordan Salloum, Kim Baptiste, Greg Pearson, and Chad Graham
Sacrilege is of that particular breed of horror film centered on a possessed object tormenting those unfortunate enough to come into contact with it. The most recent spate of similar films range from 2013’s Oculus to this year’s killer-doll sequel Annabelle: Creation, and there’s something inherently interesting in the idea that the things in our home might be out to get us. That draw aside, Sacrilege’s well-worn tale of a childhood toy (in this case, a music box) harboring a demonic spirit doesn’t appear to have much to recommend it on the surface—however, despite uneven acting and the occasional rookie directing mistakes, there are unique points and a solid plot shining through the direct-to-video veneer.
The movie begins with college student (presumably grad, given her age) Jessica (Jenn Foreman) and boyfriend Cole (the upcoming Battlecreek and Jeepers Creepers III) perusing a country yard sale in the quest to find their bookworm roommate Samantha (Megan Few, The Legend of Industrial Ghost-Wolf, Making of a Serial Killer 2013) a birthday gift. Jessica ultimately settles on a late woman’s music box, which the bereaved husband hesitantly lets go for pocket change. While Samantha loves the gift at first, a slow change comes over her, leading to a gruesome end. Not long after her death, Jess and Cole discover that their innocent present harbors a sinister inhabitant bent on feeding from the living.
The first thing that will drive some viewers away is the acting on display at the film’s start. Jenn Foreman, who makes her debut in the film, does better when the tension is ratcheted up than when she’s supposed to be playing a carefree youth, and her presentation as a flakey responsibility-dodger never really works into the plot in a meaningful way, despite multiple attempts by the script to wedge it in. Jordan Salloum does better, though by the latter half of the movie, his bitter nihilism becomes more grating than nerve-wracking, suggesting his character overstayed his welcome. Megan Few gives a more even performance, and one wishes she’d have been the thread carrying the story to its tidy conclusion.
By far the worst culprit in the acting arena is debatable headliner Kim Baptiste (The Devil’s Dolls, I Killed My BFF 2015), who enters into the stricken young couple’s nightmare as a paranormal investigator convinced of her ability to help. Baptiste, who has impressive presence, nevertheless proceeds to chew the scenery, becoming unlikable from the instant she appears on the scene. While her character, Dr. Harris, is supposed to appear self-serving, her over-the-top presentation leaves viewers wondering how in the world Jessica and Cole can even begin to put their faith in her. Dr. Harris’s assistant Ted, played by newcomer Greg Pearson, is a different story, and his portrayal of love-struck follower to Harris’s overbearing matriarch is both multi-layered and nuanced. He carries the second half of the film, and one hopes to see more of him in future productions.
The film itself looks solid, and most questionable shots are due to overlong cuts, not technical quality. An example is early on, when a grisly hand reaches for the back of a character’s head, only to fondle the air instead of touching the actor. It would have been effective if the shot cut away after just a glimpse, but the hedonistic desire to show too much makes it look amateur. That’s not to say Sacrilege is devoid of spooky scenes—far from it. The Demonic Child, played by child-acting veteran Cameron Tonry (Sticky Notes, Lost in Time 2017), is shot expertly, and the bloody grin she exhibits is the kind of image vampire auteur Jean Rollin lived for.
In addition to those choice chilling moments, the plot has merits all its own. Despite some stumbling blocks in character development, the script’s dialogue has good bits that build to the ultimate reveal of the box’s sad origins. Chad Graham (Ragaru, June 2015) plays a vital role as the original box owner Carl, and his menacing countenance does the role justice as he delivers the climactic twist, which—while not earth-shattering—is worthy of a “well done” nod.
All in all, if you’re willing to give the movie fifteen or so minutes to get going, you’ll be treated to that rare direct-to-video indie feature that is worth a watch. Let’s hope director/writer pair Paul and Mary Nguyen Catalanotto can amp up their next feature, because it just might be a doozy if they do.