Sacrifice (IFC Midnight, NR)

Sacrifice is a well-done genre film, full of familiar tropes used effectively and some interesting twists as well.


Remember the Tellund Man? In case you don’t, he was a “bog body” discovered in a peat bog on the Jutland Peninsula in 1950. At the time of his discovery, the Tellund Man was assumed to be a recent murder victim, judging by the state of his corpse, but it was later determined that he had in fact lived in the 4th century BCE. The key point: Under the right conditions (chemical properties of the peat, an anaerobic environment below the bog’s surface, and a sufficiently cold temperature), a peat bog can preserve a body, including skin and soft tissues, in a remarkably lifelike state for centuries. That’s great if you are an archeologist, but from the point of view of the police, it can make it difficult to determine the time of death (as in the case of the Tellund Man, where the initial estimate was only off by 2300 years or so).

Early in Sacrifice, Dr. Tora Hamilton (Radha Mitchell) discovers a body in a bog on the Shetland Islands, where she and her husband Duncan (Rupert Graves) have recently moved. The body is that of a young woman, and several things are noteworthy about her corpse—she was killed violently, gave birth not long before her death, and has runic symbols carved into her body. In case you don’t remember the science of bog bodies and why that makes it difficult to determine when an individual died, a handy capsule lecture on the subject is delivered by one of the characters.

As far as the island police are concerned, this particular body can be assumed to belong to someone who died long ago, and they’re ready to drop the case after going through the usual motions. In fact, as one character says, it’s really a matter of more interest to the Museum of Natural History than the police. But Dr. Hamilton is particularly sensitized to the particular combination of circumstances presented by this corpse, due to her recent miscarriage (the reason she and her husband moved to Shetland, and are now planning to adopt a child) as well as her outsider status (prior to the miscarriage, she was a high-powered surgeon in the big city), so she decides to conduct her own investigation.

This does not please some locals, who try to warn her off with veiled threats (“this is a small island”) and physical intimidation. Of course, she continues undeterred, in the process turning up legends about the “Kunal Trows,” a male-only band of troll-like creatures noted for their habit of impregnating human women and killing them after they gave birth. To locals, the Kunal Trows feature only in fairy stories told to “wee bairns,” but Mitchell has found an academic expert who thinks they were an actual religious sect, and not necessarily only in the distant past. Add in the fact that the Trows were said to kill their baby mamas in a manner that matches up closely with the injuries on the bog body she discovered, and it’s game on.

Sacrifice, written and directed by Peter A. Dowling, is a well-done genre film, full of familiar tropes used effectively and some interesting twists as well. I particularly appreciate the “girl power” aspect of the story (Mitchell is absolutely the protagonist of this film, and is aided in her research by a local policewoman played by Joanne Crawford)—this is one movie that has no problem passing the Bechdel Test. The cast is also quite good for a genre film, and the technical elements are all first-rate. Special bonus: this film was partly shot on the Shetland Islands, so you get a little travelogue along with your story. | Sarah Boslaugh

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