Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Shrine - B Grade Horror Gets A High C Grade

The Shrine -  Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
T he Shrine is surprisingly not bad for a B grade horror film. The plot isn't complicated, but it is different. Director A journalist named Carmen (Sampson) talks her intern Sara (Heffern), and her photographer into investigating a disappearance of an American tourist in Poland.  Jon Knautz does a decent job of building the suspense of the story. However, the characters in this film could use more development. The film stars Aaron Ashmore, Cindy Sampson, and Meghan Heffern and Trevor Matthews. 

The opening scene depicts a sacrificial ritual where somber looking priests slam a hammer onto a mask pounding it into a man's face. The first act of Knautz and co-writers Brendan Moore and Trevor Matthews' script is pretty much setting up the relationship between Carmen (Sampson) and Marcus (Ashmore).  Carmen is an ambitious woman whose goal is becoming her paper's star reporter. However, her editor Dale (Philip Craig) sticks her with "soft" journalism assignments. We also meet Sara (Heffern), Carmen's spunky intern. Most importantly, we meet Eric Taylor's (Ben Lewis), the man who now wears a permanent death mask. His mom has received her son's belongings but not his remains. The Airline pronounced Eric missing. With permission of the dead man's mother, Carmen finds a journal amongst the dead man's belongings and reads his final entry.

As in "The Blair Witch Project," Carmen is adamant about getting her story -- no matter what the cost. She disobeys her editor, tricks her photographer boyfriend to join her and Sara on a trip to a sparsely populated area of Poland called Alvania. Although the name sounds Eastern European, as Wikipedia points out, the letter "v" is not used in the Polish alphabet; however, they have the "v" sound from the letter "w." The trio drives to the rural town and walk into the village. 

The tone of the second act changes as Knautz wants us to focus on the weirdness of the town and the town's people. We meet Lidia (Julia Debowska) a young girl dressed like Laura Ingalls from "Little House on the Prairie." The choice that Knautz and the production team made concerning the foreign language used or the lack of subtitles is interesting. I don't speak Polish, so I don't know how accurate the language the actors playing the townsfolk were, however, without subtitles we, the audience, are in the same position as the English speaking characters. The language issue is a two-edge sword while it adds to the mystery it leaves the audience confused. 


The Shrine -  Aaron Ashmore, Cindy Sampson, Meghan Heffern | A Constantly Racing Mind

If Aaron Ashmore looks familiar then perhaps you remember his twin brother Shawn, who plays Bobby Drake aka Iceman in the "X-Men" franchise. Ashmore does a more than passable job as the boyfriend caught up in his girlfriend's troubles. Sampson and Heffern's performance are stiff and two-dimensional. Not until the last half hour of the film do they come alive. 

Co-writer and actor Trevor Matthews plays Lidia's father, Henryk. Matthews is the executive producer of "The Shrine" and CEO of Brookstreet Pictures Corp. He doesn't speak in English much, but he conveys the towns loathing for outsiders.  We first see him as the investigators approach the village. Henryk is slaughtering a pig. He leads a group of townsmen in an effort to force the trio to leave. He appears near the end, in what appears to be a cult ritual.  Throughout his role he is either shouting in Polish (let's assume it is) or he is smacking the journalist around.  Odd thing for a producer to do.

The Shrine -  Demonic Shrine| A Constantly Racing MindThis is a Canadian film whose budget, although low, contains some impressive visuals in the final act of the film. This is Knautz's (pronounced "kuh-nots") first full-length film clocking in at just under an hour and a half. He does a decent job of directing the film and keeping the actors on track. Everyone has to start somewhere. Ryan Shore provides the haunting melodies that keep the tension building.

At the center of the film, in the forest just outside of the Polish village is an area where perpetual fog hangs. In the center of the fog stands a demonic looking statue. Although, as I said, the shrine is vital to the film's plot, we only see it for a total of five minutes. Carmen encounters it and takes a few digital photos of it. At this point one begins to wonder what is in the fog because the demon suddenly changes position when we weren't looking, or Carmen is hallucinating?  Carmen's hallucination continues as she stares at the carved rock, she only turns and runs when the heart that the creature is holding begins to beat. However, it's only near the very end where the five minutes we spend with the statue.

"The Shrine" is one film I don't have any real problems recommending to B-Horror genre aficionados. The story and its ending are decent and the production values are above average for this type of film. If you are ready to set aside some minor story issues, then sit back and try to relax when watching "The Shrine."

Movie Data
Genre: Horror 
Year:  2010
Staring:  Aaron Ashmore, Cindy Sampson, Meghan Heffern, Trevor Matthews, Julia Debowska
Director: Jon Knautz
Producer(s): J. Michael Dawson
Writer: Jon Knautz, Brendan Moore, Trevor Matthews
Rating: R
Running Time: 85 minutes
Release Date: 7/25/2010