Tora Hamilton (Radha Mitchell) used to work in a New York City hospital as a doctor specialising in pregnancy, but the irony was that when she became pregnant by her partner Duncan Guthrie (Rupert Graves) she lost the baby in a miscarriage, and what made that all the more humiliating was that she was at work at the time. So perhaps the time has come to get away from it all, and she and her boyfriend head off across the Atlantic to Duncan's home of the Shetlands, off the coast of Scotland, where they hope to settle down and adopt a child to make up for the fact they cannot conceive one of their own successfully. However, there are reasons why this move may not have been the best idea...
Sacrifice was based on a solidly selling novel, the debut book from Sharon Bolton who went on to build a fanbase for her thrillers, making this film version one of many big screen adaptations of what had been pageturners according to a section of the reading public. It certainly started out as a fair suspense piece as far as the movie went, though you felt you could see where it was going the minute Tora digs up a dead body with her mechanical digger in her new back garden. What was she doing with one of those machines? Where she got it is a mystery, but a Shetland pony died in next to her house and she was digging a grave with it when she found what appears to be a sacrificial victim.
OK, you had to suspend some disbelief at the beginning that Tora wouldn't just ask the council to take the corpse of the animal away (was she going to push it into the hole herself?!), but it was all to set the ball rolling as she begins to suspect as she invites herself into the investigation that this body is not hundreds of years old and preserved by the peat bogs, but was in fact a recent victim. If you're now thinking, ah yes, we've all seen The Wicker Man, well hold your horses (or Shetland ponies) because screenwriter turned director Peter A. Dowling had other tricks up his sleeve, taking advantage of some lovely scenery to craft a tale more related to secret societies of the elite than a whole community gripped by religious mania.
The trouble with that being that when we find out what is actually behind not only the body Tora found but the fate of a group of pregnant women reaching back through history, it strained credibility to breaking point. Bolton fully admitted she had never been up north before she penned her novel, and that was clear from her depiction of the locals as a patriarchal nightmare slaughtering people with impunity because, er, it was a tight knit society and they were not interested in your outsiders' ways or something, that she had no idea what Scotland's islands were really like, but the fact Dowling's production went all the way up there to film might have prompted him to another draft of the script for more believability. What started looking like a Sunday night television drama quickly descended into farce.
But here's the thing, the more ludicrous Sacrifice became, the more perversely enjoyable the results, with increasing numbers of big laughs to be had from the film's ideas of what a modern thriller should be. Tora teams up with the sergeant Dana (Joanne Crawford) to delve into the conundrum, apparently because she's a doctor and therefore "official" in some capacity, but the paranoia from the females about what the men were really up to was absurd, even more so when it was proven justified. According to this, a strong male bloodline was enough to excuse a string of murders and bad behaviour, just the sort of thing those dastardly men would get up to in a remote, superstitious part of the world if left unchecked and brazenly too with their tattoo identifications, by which point if you're not suppressing giggles you've thrown your head back for real belly laughs. Yet if you accepted this was nonsense, with accents ranging from the not bad to the dreadful for extra entertainment, then by the end you had been diverted enough for this not to have been a waste of ninety minutes. Music by Benedikt Brydern.