Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Shrine (2010)


How Many Poles Does It Take To Sacrifice A Human?

Pardon the sub-title of this review, as there is no punchline, but I just couldn't help myself as it's not often you see a horror film taking place in Poland (even though it's filmed in Canada). Jon Knautz first made headway into the horror community with 2007's horror/comedy hit Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, which garnered the then-new director instant praise and status among fans (having Robert Englund co-star in your first feature doesn't hurt, either). A few years later, he returns with The Shrine, a straight-up chiller that trades laughs and goofy monsters for thick atmosphere and a never-ending sense of dread, proving that Knautz is far from a one-hit-wonder, making him one of the most promising and versatile directors working in the genre.

Carmen (Cindy Sampson, Supernatural) is a young and ambitious journalist, hoping to rise through the ranks with a story of Eric Taylor, a tourist who vanished while backpacking across Europe. Carmen believes she's found a new break in the case when Eric's luggage mysteriously turns up at a Prague airport, where he had never visited during his trip. The luggage mystery matches a handful of other stories of travelers who were never found, and Carmen thinks she's onto something big, but her boss deems the story old news and a dead end, urging her to focus on a weak report about bees not returning to pollinate at an Omaha farm. Trusting her journalistic instincts, Carmen visits Eric's mother who allows her to search through his luggage, discovering that his last journal entry was written from a small village in Poland. In the same overly-ambitious fashion as Natasha from The Tunnel, Carmen lies to her crew which consists of her cameraman and boyfriend, Marcus (Aaron Ashmore, twin brother of Frozen's Shawn Ashmore), and Sara (Meghan Heffern, The Fog remake), leading them to believe they've been given the go ahead to investigate the Polish village. Once they arrive, they soon realize that the locals aren't too friendly to outsiders and are overly protective of their forest, which has an eerie fog always sitting above it. Inside the fog, they discover a demonic shrine that leads them to the discovery of dead bodies, all killed in a ritualistic fashion. Soon, the locals are violently pursuing the crew, and if they're not careful, their luggage may be the next to mysteriously turn up without an owner.


Tourists/reporters abroad in hostile territory isn't anything new to the horror genre, but The Shrine is a welcomed exception. Taking the sacrificial cult theme and turning it on its head, Knautz has crafted a suspenseful and original film that keeps you on the edge of your seat until a surprising third act takes everything you thought you knew about the story and flips it around. With scripting like that, horror fans should be pleasantly surprised by this little film.


For a low-budget movie, the production values are exceptional. The locations are gorgeous and creepy at the same time, with foggy woods, underground lairs, and old farmhouses serving as set pieces for some tense chase scenes as well as the uncomfortably painful sacrificial moments. The violence is sparse in comparison to Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, but with good reason. Most of the kills in this movie are realistic and unfortunate, so while the blood does flow, it doesn't distract from the intensity and realism of the situations. Also on hand are some great make up effects that immensely enhance the film's production value when used, particularly the scenes involving some nasty demonic entities.


All in all, The Shrine is a great low-budget film that's worth a viewing. Sure, it can be a little slow at times and not all of the production values are high quality, but when you watch as much horror shlock as I do, this film is a godsend. It's also further proof that Knautz has a knack for doing big things with little budgets, and I can't wait to see what he dreams up next.

3/5 Stars

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