The Vice Guide to Jonestown: The Sacrament and the Post-Allegorical Moment

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


This paper will explore how The Sacrament (West, 2013) functions as a reimagining of the Jonestown Massacre – an event pushed to the margins of American cultural memory – and will examine its position within Ti West’s cinematic oeuvre.

This paper will investigate how the use of allegory is complicated, built on, and finally departed from within The Sacrament through its movement towards explicit rather than implicit representation of historical trauma and how this eschewal of allegory impacted on the critical reception of the film: as several critics advanced that West’s decision to use the story of Jonestown but not name it within the narrative was exploitative. However, this paper will demonstrate that the story of Jonestown – the popular understanding of which has been said to be ‘unalterable in its persistence’ (Moore, 2000: 7) – needed to be retold, whether ‘using real-life horror as a basis for fictional horror is offensive’ (Costello, 2014), or not.

Known for his multi-hyphenate status, West’s decision to frame The Sacrament as a faux documentary positions the film as a visual interpretation of the ‘Death Tape’ reclaimed from the site of Jonestown. This paper will argue, through a comparative analysis of this tape and The Sacrament, that West’s film is not representing the unrepresentable, but rather represents the never represented in a multi layered way, with its creation of a visual accompaniment to a very real audio horror.

This paper will explore how The Sacrament transgresses unwritten ‘rules’, while evaluating if there are limits to traumatic representation, and asks how we begin to traverse tensions around ‘those who feel that a certain traumatic event cannot be represented and those who feel the same event must be represented’ (Lowenstein, 2005: 1).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2022
EventCineexcess 16: Reframing the Monsters Outside: Mavericks, Rebels and Rule Breakers in Cult Film - Birmingham City University , Birmingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 18 Oct 202223 Oct 2022


ConferenceCineexcess 16
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Trauma
  • Witnessing
  • Found Footage Horror
  • Cult Film


Dive into the research topics of 'The Vice Guide to Jonestown: The Sacrament and the Post-Allegorical Moment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this