Sunday, March 4, 2012

Blu-ray Review: THE SHRINE (2010)

THE SHRINE (2010) Blu-ray

Label: Arrow Films
Region Code: B
Rating: 18
Duration: 82 mins
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master, 2.0 Stereo PCM
Director: Jon Knautz
Cast: Aaron Ashmore, Cindy Sampson, Meghan Heffern

Synopsis: After a young backpacker goes missing, a group of journalists link his disappearance to a remote village called Alvaina. Upon further investigation, the journalists discover that Alvaina has a history of bizarre cult activity revolving around human sacrifice.

THE SHRINE is a recent film from Jon Knautz, the writer-director of the cult horror-comedy JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER, a totally fun 80's throwback with some great practical effects and creature make-up about a plumber with some serious anger management issues versus an awakened ancient evil, it's fun stuff and if you haven't seen it yet you're missing out so rectify that as soon as you can.

In the decidedly more straight up horror film THE SHRINE (2010) a young American tourist named Eric Taylor (Ben Lewis) goes missing while backpacking in Poland. When an career driven American journalist named Carmen (Cindy Sampson, THE LAST KISS) picks-up the story she discovers that a series of similar disappearances have occurred for over fifty years in and around the remote rural village of Alvaina, where it's whispered that human sacrifices are performed. The Polish and American authorities have done little to find Eric and Carmen sees this as just the story to advance her young journalistic career, it might also be her undoing. 

The stubborn and just slightly bitchy Carmen convinces her photographer boyfriend Marcus (Aaron Ashmore, THE THAW) and sweet assistant Sara (Meghan Heffern) to accompany her on a trip to Poland to investigate the disappearances despite her editors belief that she's actually investigating a science piece about missing honey bees in the Midwest. The whole beginning of the film and her conflict with her editor is a bit of a slag to be honest but the film quickly picks up after 20 minutes or so once they arrive in the village of Alvania.

Upon their arrival in the small rural village it's pretty clear that the locals, a particularly religious bunch with strange archaic customs, are none to pleased to see the outsiders, it's definitely one of those small out of the way places best left alone. Note to self, never drive down miles of dirt road to visit a village where people are known to go missing, that's just common sense. After a threatening encounter with the local butcher Henryk (Trevor Mathews, JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER) Marcus suggests they give up the search and return to the States but the group become intrigued by a mysterious fog that lingers over the nearby woods, which was mentioned in the journal of the missing backpacker. On entering the wooded area to glean a closer look they are confronted with a thick wall of unnatural mist. Both Carmen and Sara enter the thicket of fog separately and become hopelessly lost, eventually they both come across an creepy statue that appears demonic and cat-like in nature. When Carmen looks upon the statue it's eyes begin to bleed and a stone heart clenched in it's fist begins to beat, it's head turns towards Carmen, too. Fleeing the eerie figure both Carmen and Sara emerge from the mist and begin to hear voices whispering to them and feeling strange, nauseous and disoriented.

Shortly after the group encounter a young girl named Lidia from the village a who tells them she knows what happened to Eric and where he is, leading them to an underground tomb in the forest where they find his body in a coffin with an iron mask staked into his head, it seems the rumors of human sacrifice are true and there are dark dealings at hand. Attempting to flee through the woods after their grim disocovery the trio find that they are surrounded by villagers and are captured after a brief struggle and pursuit, including Sara being struck with a crossbow bolt in the meat of her calf, very painful. The pursuit doesn't take long either, the men of the village are agile and strong, they tackle Marcus like a pro-footballer, apparently they grow 'em strong in this part of Poland.

Once captured the high priest of the local order discovers that the women have seen the mysterious statue shrouded in fog and separates them from Marcus, whom is forced to dig graves at gunpoint in the forest. Inside the tomb the women are stripped of their clothes are forced to wear ceremonial dresses. Sara is the first to be layed upon the alter to endure a ritual involving robed priests, a painful bloodletting and the cruel application of a iron mask marked with Christian runes, on the inside of the mask instead of eyelets there are long stakes that are hammered into her skull releasing a thick torrent of blood.

Before Carmen can be sacrificed Marcus is able to get the upper hand on his captor and rescues her, both fleeing to a nearby farmhouse in an attempt to steal a truck. While there Carmen's illness intensifies, she begins to suffer more voices and experiences horrifying visions of demons, it's here we begin to understand that all is not quite what it seems and that the trio of Americans have stumbled upon a centuries old secret beyond their understanding. The final ten minutes of the film explode in a bloody frenzy of demonic possession and exorcism as Carmen transforms into a grotesque form, tearing the family apart with her bare hands, gutting them.  All this leading to a thrilling exorcism showdown with the local clergy that really had me on the edge of my seat, it gets pretty nasty towards.

The film is a pretty great watch with only a few non-fatal shortcomings worth mentioning. The first twenty minutes of the film seem a bit clunky but like I say, once they arrive in Alvania things really pick-up. The other qualm I have was with the look of the film, it's low-budget and some of the cinematography looks a bit off or not well staged, there's a desaturation of the color that didn't sit well with me and the mist looked a bit too digital for my tastes in contrast to some really excellent practical make-up effects applications used in the film.

On the plus side the acting is pretty great straight through and this is coming from someone who doesn't really care for Aaron Ahsmore at all, very decent performances that really sold the story and situation. The film is light on blood and gore but the final 10 minutes really pay off with some brutal carnage, sweet practical effects. The film is also benefited by a subtle and haunting score from Ryan Shore

Blu-ray Special Features: None

Verdict: After the horror-comedy of JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER I wasn't quite anticipating the straight-up supernatural chiller that was THE SHRINE, a real Lovecraftian thriller with elements of folk-horror and one of the best exorcism films I've seen in awhile, really creepy stuff and a high recommend. We've seen what Knautz can do with the horror-comedy and now with a supernatural thriller so I can't wait to see what's up next. 4 outta 5