“Sacrifice” | Radha Mitchell, Rupert Graves, Ian McElhinney, Joanne Crawford, Peter Vollebregt, David Robb, Deirdre Monaghan, Declan Conlon, Conor Mullen, Liam Carney, Hilary Rose | Writer and Director: Peter A. Dowling
Adapted from the acclaimed debut novel by S.J. Bolton, “Sacrifice” is dark thriller that follows the exploits of Dr. Tora Hamilton (Radha Mitchell), an obstetrician who relocates to her husband’s hometown in hopes of starting a new life. What follows is a journey by Tora into a cryptic world based on fundamental Celtic traditions and the disturbing lengths one is willing to ensure their family’s prosperity over the centuries.
For the versed cinephile, “Sacrifice” will remind one of the stark visuals, cryptic antagonists, frigid townspeople (who know more than they care to admit) and overwhelming feeling of paranoia that was prevalent in British thrillers in the 1970s. The atmosphere of the Shetland Islands is as majestic as it is desolate; without question it takes a strong spine and a tenacious spirit to live in this most rural of areas, based on the reticence of the Shetland natives. Like many small communities, the slightest change to the status quo is swiftly and vehemently opposed. Generations of hard toiling families have gone by without a snag in their traditions, until an unintentional unearthing by one of its few outsiders throws everyone in a whirlwind of intrigue and murderous intent.
While the plot provides a new avenue that ventures into familiar territory seen in decades past, the exploration into this township of terror is made all the more believable and compelling from the impassioned performance of Radha Mitchell. In her turn as Dr. Hamilton, we’ve a fully fleshed protagonist who is introduced in the film at her most vulnerable after a traumatic incident. Though her husband Duncan (Rupert Graves) is wholly supportive of his wife and her new endeavors, many of the supporting characters assume the conventional function of an obstructionist. Initially welcoming and cordial to Tora in their old clannish society, her divergent thinking and dogged questioning into practically everything rankles the feathers of all the wrong people, from the hospital staff to the community leaders and lead detective inspector, played by Game of Thrones’ Ian McElhinney.
Due to a grisly discovery in her backyard, Dr. Hamilton charges herself to uncover the identity of a murder victim and why she was thoroughly mutilated. Assisted by another new face to the island – Sgt. Dana Tulloch (Joanne Crawford) – the two risk life and limb in their investigation, which takes a decidedly personal turn fairly quickly. That all being written, the dangers Hamilton and Tulloch experience, convincing and lasting though they may be, does little to shake up the predictability of their characters’ steps in finding more clues about the victim – as well as their eventual outcomes.
There’s a sliver of promise for the narrative when the ‘Kunal Trow’ are researched by Tora, as their history and bizarre rituals are quite striking. Moreover, their presence is all but confirmed by evidence strewn across the Shetlands in the form of runes. The Trow are an open secret among the inhabitants of the island – to speak of them is enough to threaten physical violence – however the addition of this potential supernatural element is subdued as “Sacrifice” maintains its bleak yet grounded setting. While the Kunal Trow may not be as expected by audiences and Dr. Hamilton alike, they are formidable opponents nonetheless. The more Tora delves into the island’s history, the more this secretive cult’s pervasiveness is revealed. While power and influence has been amassed over the generations by an exclusive few, it’s Tora’s zealous search for the truth in their other sinister dealings that figuratively and literally put her on edge.
Ultimately, “Sacrifice” offers an subtle thriller set among a somber, derelict landscape that borders on the otherworldly. Though the narrative offers few surprises, strong performances by Radha Mitchell and Joanne Crawford effectively pull viewers into this off-kilter world of conspiracies and ancient rites.
Sacrifice – distributed by IFC Midnight – will premiere April 29 at the IFC Center in New York, On Demand and all digital platforms. The film will premiere in Los Angeles at the Arena Theater on May 6.
Sacrifice = 7.3/10