'Sacrifice': Woodstock Review

Sacrifice Still - H 2014
Courtesy of JuntoBox Films

Sacrifice Still - H 2014

Strong performances compensate for familiar elements 

A fatal accident produces escalating complications for a group of teenagers in Michael Cohn's drama

A fatal accident deep in the woods and the inevitable cover-up that only makes things worse provide a familiar morality tale in Sacrifice, Michael Cohn's drama mainly notable for its strong performances by its youthful cast. Due for theatrical release early next year, this initial production from the new collaborative film company JuntoBox co-founded by Forest Whittaker recently received its world premiere at the Woodstock Film Festival.

Set in Texas, the story naturally begins with a high school football game where star player Hank (Luke Kleintank) has just led his team to victory. Basking in the adoration of his girlfriend and his drunken father (Dermot Mulroney) who clearly favors him over his younger, socially maladroit brother Tim (Austin Abrams), Hank seems destined for a college football scholarship and a bright future.

To celebrate their winning season, Hank and his friends Kaz (Brandon Smith) and Benny (Lewis Tan) decide to go on a hunting trip, with Tim begging to come along. Things begin well enough, with the usual drinking and boisterous spirits, until Tim accidentally shoots a park ranger. Panicking, he lets the victim lay on the ground for several hours before tearfully confessing the incident to the initially disbelieving trio.

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They set off in the dark in search of the body, but by the time they find him and bring him back to their trailer it's already too late. Cue the Deliverance-style complications, as the four young men quarrel over whether or not to come clean or attempt to cover their tracks. The escalating angry encounters, many of which take place in a torrential downpour, ultimately produce even more fateful results.

Returning home, Hank and his younger brother continue to wrestle with the consequences of their actions, a task made more difficult by the increasing suspicions of a local detective (James McDaniel). It all results in a melodramatic climax that inspires the film's title but seems more than a little heavy-handed.

Playing the sort of role that would have made him a natural for Friday Night Lights, Kleintank delivers a sensitive turn that makes vividly clear his character's warring emotional impulses. Abrams is equally impressive as the hapless younger brother whose weakness set the complicated plot in motion, while Mulroney and Melora Waters provide solid support as the beleaguered parents.

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While the film handles its moralistic themes with admirably complex ambiguity, it never quite manages to overcome its air of artificiality. It will best appeal to younger audiences who will easily relate to its central characters' feelings of hopelessness in the face of their downward spiral.

Production: JuntoBox
Cast: Luke Kleintank, Austin Abrams, Lewis Tan, Brandon Smith, James McDaniel, Melora Walters, Dermot Mulroney
Director/screenplay: Michael Cohn
Producers: Jeanine Rohn, Joseph Sememse
Executive producers: Nina Yang Biojovi, Philippe Caland, Rachid Rizk
Director of photography: Steven Parker
Editors: Heather Born, Brian Ufberg
Production designer: Alejandro Sescosse
Costume designer: Liz Tee
Composer: Roger Suen
Casting: Emily Schweber

No rating, 105 min.