Sacrifice (2016)

by - April 29th, 2016 - Movie Reviews


By-the-Numbers Sacrifice an Unremarkably Obvious Thriller

After suffering her fourth miscarriage, Dr. Tora Hamilton’s (Radha Mitchell) husband Duncan Guthrie (Rupert Graves) convinces his successful, if understandably devastated, wife to move from the U.S. to his secluded hometown nestled 100 miles off the coast of Scotland in the middle of the Shetland Islands. While working in her yard, Tora is shocked to discover the mutilated body of a young woman, her heart ripped from her chest and mysterious series of runic symbols carved into her rotting flesh.



Initially, the police dismiss the case, believing the body is hundreds of years old. But Tora isn’t so sure. Her keen eye for detail leads her to believe this body isn’t as old as the local authorities would like everyone to believe. Joining forces with a young, and very pregnant, local detective, Sgt. Dana Tulloch (Joanne Crawford), Tora begins to piece together a conspiracy that might just reach the highest echelons of power, and that includes Duncan’s wealthy, well-respected father Richard (David Robb).

Based on the book by S.J. Bolton, screenwriter and director Peter A. Dowling’s (Stag Night) second film isn’t so much bad as it is instantly forgettable. It’s a Nancy Drew mystery crossed with an episode of “C.S.I.” and augmented by a healthy dose of Agatha Christie meets “Diagnosis Murder.” It’s an obvious little potboiler that’s never as surprising as it thinks it is or as tricky as Dowling clearly hopes it will be, the film’s impressive cast stranded going through a number of routine motions as things make their way to a relatively preordained conclusion.

Not that the director doesn’t kick things off promisingly enough. An early prologue of Tora frantically trying to help a pregnant patient only to come to the horrifying realization the one gushing blood like a geyser is her and not the woman she’s attempting to help. It’s an unsettling moment, setting a tone the movie builds off of nicely, especially as the setting shifts to the Shetland Islands. Dowling creates a sense of unease that’s conspicuous, the feeling that Tora doesn’t quite know what is real and what is fantasy insidiously pervasive right up to the point she discovers the mutilated corpse in the middle of her new backyard.

From there, though, things just get more and more familiar as the plot progresses, the by-the-numbers nature of the central mystery rather infuriating considering just how strong the early moments are. Suspense ebbs away, and even a potential sideways left turn into paganism a la The Wicker Man or Kill List feels blandly routine. There’s just not a lot in the way of excitement, and even less that comes across as surprising, making the climactic turn of events too rudimentary to get excited about, even for a single solitary second.

This is unfortunate because Mitchell, a fine actress who has proven her worth in films as diverse as Pitch Black, Melinda and Melinda and High Art, gives it her all as Tora, attempting to give a complex, intriguing performance that goes beyond the tame Miss Marple meets Jessica Fletcher dynamics much of her character is built upon. Additionally, Dowling has assembled a superb cast of BBC stalwarts, all of whom appear to be having a grand time playing around inside this genre mystery playground, Robb, in particular, crafting a portrait of haughty all-knowing superiority that’s deliciously devilish throughout all of the thriller’s crisply paced 91 minutes.



Dowling shows some chops. There’s a pretty solid chase sequence inside a darkened hospital, while a third act car chase, as pointless as it might be, is still delivered with tense precision. He’s also good at setting the tone, and as already stated that opening sequence is so terrific it had me thinking I was on the verge of watching something special right there in the first five minutes or so.

Having never read Bolton’s source material, I have no idea if the problem is her book or Dowling’s adaptation. But considering the popularity of the former and the banal drudgery of many of the plot mechanics of the latter’s script I tend to lean in his direction, especially considering many of the structural weaknesses here could also be found lurking inside his debut, the underground big city cannibal chiller Stag Night. While the director can set a solid mood and can certainly create some solid visuals, dramatically he has issues maintaining suspense or crafting surprises. Sacrifice, while far from a waste of time, just isn’t interesting enough to bother with, the only mystery being why anyone thought it was strong enough to garner a theatrical release in the first place.

Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)