Saturday, 10 December 2011

Review : The Shrine (2010)


Jon Knautz


Jon Knautz (screenplay), Jon Knautz (story), and 3 more credits »

A group of young journalists looking for the 'big break' investigate the disappearances of a number of travellers in rural Poland, but their ambitious ways may lead them to becoming the next victims of a sacrifice practising cult who may be behind the mystery. Ya think.....?

Its two days since I watched this little ditty, and though the weekend beckons, Ive put aside my Budweiser Lites and turned the music down low, in order to review this flawed yet relatively fun movie. I feel its worth it, as theres an enjoyable time to be had here, and its worth sharing.

I hate to lower the standards once again by writing the whole, 'something meets something' bullshit, but I really have to, here, so forgive me for my sins....

THE SHRINE is, essentially, the outcome of splicing THE WICKER MAN with HOSTEL. At least for the first two thirds. After that we head directly down 'EXORCIST alley', for our hokey and enjoyable finale. More on that later. For now, lets step back a bit, and have a look at this bad-boy from start to finish.

As the film opens, we're witness to some sort of pagan/satanic sacrifice taking place, during an indeterminate time period. Everyone is dressed in druid-style frocks, flowing robes and face-concealing hoodies, so this could just as easily be a Saturday night in the city of Glasgow, as it could be a 'medieval period-piece', (it's neither, for the record). Its a fine introduction to the story, and it offers a glimmer of hope that there may be some satisfying nastiness ahead to alleviate the feeling you immediately get that this thing may well be an extended episode of XENA : WARRIOR PRINCESS. See, it looks like one of the shows. It has that cheesy, overly colourful look to it that sets it apart from a cinematic work. Not that this is a problem, its just a little jarring as the film has at least one relatively well known actor, in Aaron Ashmore. Its also directed by the cat behind JACK BROOKS : MONSTER SLAYER; a film which looked every inch an indie movie, but a movie nonetheless. THE SHRINE feels significantly different, and not just in the tonal shift. Strange that this film most likely has a bigger budget than Knautz' previous work, yet looks somehow cheaper. Go figure.

The 'made for TV' vibe the film emanates stretches to its acting, too. There aren't any bad performances here, they just have that overwrought, overcompensating flavour to them that we're used to seeing on a 90's Sunday afternoon fantasy show, (yeah, you too HERCULES, I haven't forgotten about you, mate). Ashmore does put in his usual efforts and comes out way ahead of the rest of the pack in terms of authenticity, but everyone is watchable and believable enough in their parts that the whole thing goes down smooth, (it doesn't hurt that the super-hot Meghan Heffern is one of the main players, either). You'll quickly get your head into the right space, and from there on out, its a fun, throwaway little mystery/horror film, that blends its influences well. Humbly, but well.

The one issue I had with the movie from the outset was the main female lead, played by Cindy Sampson. She does her job well, but the character is pretty damn slap-able from the first time we meet her, and shit doesn't change as the plot progresses. Shes a liar, a manipulative career bitch, and is selfish to the point of putting her companions lives in danger just to get her story. Were her two companions not so likable, her character might derail the fun-train before it leaves the station, but she serves as a foil for the audiences exasperation as much as she does for her co-workers, as THE SHRINE is a film that has its characters act in the most cretinous fashion imaginable. Were it not for this cold-hearted wench being the leader and the choice maker, (until finally good old Ashmore proclaims, 'Fuck this shit!'), we may not stick around for the conclusion.

That would be a shame as the finale is something of a bloodbath, and takes the film in a whole new demonic direction. It also boasts some very cool plot-twists for the 'intellectually challenged' among us, such as myself. It should be noted, though, that the main character isn't alone in her idiocy, either, as the villagers could use a good slap at times as well. Without spoiling this for you, lemme just say that this whole mess could be solved with the use of a fence.......that's right, a fence. Just build a relatively sturdy one, put up a warning sign, and move the fuck on with your lives, folks. Its a good thing I'm not the type of asshole who picks apart a film in order to look intellectually superior, (yes, fuckers, we KNOW that the eagles could have just dropped the One Ring into Mount Doom, stop wasting our time and go get laid!). If you are that type, this one should keep your mind off your devastatingly desolate sex life for just under 90 minutes. Its win/win, kids.

The pace is spot on too, as we're introduced to our three leads and allowed a little time to get to know them, (no halfwit teenagers here, thank Christ), and then we're off to sunny Poland for some torture, sacrifice and satanic silliness at the hands of hooded priests and blond muscle-men. Its hard not to smile along with this shit. I'm sure this was meant to be a deadly

THE SHRINE may fail as the outright terrifying film it aims to be, but its intentions are good, and its aspirations are commendable. The gore during the final act is great, and the scenes of sacrifice manage to be pretty damn disturbing, especially if you have a fear of ocular carnage. Yet the overall feel is that of a film best enjoyed with a few beers and a couple of buddies.

As for that scary scene I mentioned...damn is it scary. About midway through the film our characters encounter the movie's namesake. A huge shrine, encroached in a perpetual fog, and the scene is creepy as hell. I wont give away the moment, but its brilliant, and it points to good times ahead for Knautz as a serious Horror director. The guy could easily have cruised on the spoof vibe of JACK BROOKS, but he's made his first steps in the other direction, and this one scene is fried gold. I gotta say though, that as with the rest of the film, this scene borrows heavily from other sources. Anyone who's read THE SHINING, or seen that scary-as-fuck DR WHO episode with the weeping angels, will feel the sting of familiarity, though the effect remains just a freaky as it did before. This scene alone, makes THE SHRINE worth a look, though the whole show is a fun time from top to bottom.

Its hard to throw punches at a film that's so effortlessly entertaining, despite its inherent flaws and weaknesses. In many ways its these perceived weaknesses that actually elevate it to a higher status. The overacting, the 'too bright' colours, the head-scratching plot holes, (build a fucking fence!!) and the cheesy costume designs all add to its charm. If, like your host, you missed this kid on its release; give it some time. Its nonsense, but its good nonsense, and I'll drink to that.

6.5 Polish Morons out of 10

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