By Cameron Enzor
Photo credit: Pitof
From director Cyril Morin comes this political thriller that proves more frivolous than informative. A story that’s fueled by politics, while sacrificing empathy, creativity, and ingenuity in the process.
The Sacrifice Zone (The Activist) is a political thriller set during the atrocities of the Wounded Knee insurrection in 1973.
I think we’ve all come across those films inspired by true events where we will watch it, and then say to ourselves “I still feel like I know relatively zero of the actual event that was just being shown” and sadly I had that moment with this film. So many times I feel these films try to come off as informative, but get drastically lost when they try to stand as a piece of cinema.
Usually, I’ve found that there’s a couple main reasons for this (with The Sacrifice Zone (The Activist) being no exception). The prominent reason being that it feels like the substance is built off of so much research, and zero empathy. For example, it’s why films based on serial killers, for instance, never get the reaction that is necessarily intended, because most of the time they’re built off of research and exploration. Like a movie that tells you “look at this depiction of what happened” when any movie go-er would rather want to “experience” something. Not “see” something.
A GREAT example of allowing people to experience real world events (while also teaching them something) are films to the likes of Schindler’s List & Wind River. Very powerful films not just because of the topics those films (and many others) display, but HOW the filmmakers display it. When it comes to The Sacrifice Zone (The Activist), I do not believe this film does enough for the Lakota Natives other than focus on depicting not their great culture and origins in South Dakota, but only the torment and vile hand they had been dealt in 1973 specifically.
On a technical standpoint, I don’t feel this film was dealt good cards when it comes to its execution. Maybe it’s just me, but when I was following the writing and dialogue, I realized that the writer/director kept jumping around a lot in the process. Maybe this is a writer’s thing, but I could feel the writer (Cyril Morin) jump from character to character, story beat to story beat. In simpler words, it all feels like a monotoned thesis statement rather than a multidimensional & dynamic experience (which is what the genre of film is known for).
When it comes to the acting, Michael Spears (who plays Bud) was phenomenal. While overlooking the writing and the direction, I feel Spears was honestly brought down by the writing & direction, which is heart-breaking to say. He was the only person in frame I ever felt grasped by, while everyone else seemed to have immense trouble working with the little that was given.
With the directing & placements, it all lacked a lot of creativity. There were a countless number of dull and extremely rough scenes that could have really benefited from some creative problem solving, and an eye for execution.
The soundtrack also had very little to grab onto. It was more of a Post-Modern soundtrack setup with a lot of sampling inconsistencies (sounding like it was made on a computer DAW, and not from an actual orchestra).
Because of this, the narrative overall feels just like an observation piece and nothing more. Frankly as an artist, I extremely dislike the neglect of responsibility that was evident in the film regarding the real elements that were trying to be portrayed. It’s easy to write a part of history without necessarily being a part of it and wield it without consequence or a sense of morality, just to say you’re intent is to give it attention. But you’re not properly informing something when your focus is just on the brutality.
Think about it, how many films were made depicting the holocaust? And given that extremely high number, why does Schindlers’ List stand out so much? Why does it have such an effect? Because, it wasn’t just built on observation. It was built on empathy and attention to detail and artistry. There was that approach of “I’m not going to tell you as a filmmaker what happened and express how I feel about it, I’m going to make you feel and experience this, so you can feel for yourself in all it’s entirety.”
I would argue that it is extremely belligerent to make a film focused on victimization and say it’s informal, when you show no real attention to the victims themselves, only the abuse and retaliation. It’s a product of a lack of discipline, an immoral sense of an unjust reality you’re trying to play with just so you can call it “film”. That’s a tough rope to balance on, not many are as intelligent and/or insightful enough to walk across that tight rope successfully.
In the case of The Sacrifice Zone (The Activist), it pains my heart to say that just because the intentions for it were right, doesn’t mean the film came out that way. The Sacrifice Zone (The Activist) releases on multiple platforms in the U.S. and Canada May 17th.