I’ve said it before, and, if RITES OF SPRINGS teaches me anything, it’s that it often bears repeating: almost anyone with an idea can write and shoot a slasher/horror picture these days, AND almost any studio will distribute it. The upside? The market continues to be flooded with good and … erm … let’s say “less than good” product, and that keeps the consumers coming back to the trough for yet another scare. The downside? Well, because the dynamics of producing even a modestly-thought-out idea, video store shelves are stacked with one forgettable piece of garbage after another.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
After killing a local businessman’s wife, a group of entry-level kidnappers nab his tween daughter to hold for $1 million ransom. Hiding out in an abandoned school, the team of criminals is surprised when a blood-stained young woman stumbles into their hidey-hole … with a maniacal axe-wielding killer in pursuit! Forced to team up for safety, the criminals and the young woman realize they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, and, unless they can cooperate, they’re bound to become the lunatic’s dinner … or something.
This is Dumb. Yes, dumb. With a capital ‘D.’
(NOTE: unfortunately, there’s no way to review RITES without some spoilers, folks. So if you want to know my final rating, then jump down to the last two paragraphs. However, if you’re up for some laughs, then read on!)
Writer/director Padraig Reynolds bears the distinction of shooting the most ill-prepared slasher script I’ve watched in decades. To his credit, there’s some mythology here – apparently, the ‘barn creature’ feasts only on the heads of five female victims once every first day of Spring, hence the title – though it makes absolutely no sense. See, he has a keeper who – for reasons never made clear – catches the women for him. The ‘barn creature’ can’t do it himself (or herself?) because he’s kept locked in the cellar of a barn (?!?!) for the rest of the year.
Not only that, but also the monster apparently has a fetish for munching only the heads of beauty pageant queens or other reasonably hot-looking women, though (again) we’re given no logical explanation for that, either. Instead, each woman is hotter looking than the one before, and, no doubt, we can figure out the subsequent lookers’ fates once we’ve seen ‘em.
Not only that, but also this ritual – Reynolds calls them “rites” for a reason, kiddies – has been going on for 25 years … and yet no one has ever come up with the idea to simply close shop, take your good-looking women and children, and leave town every March 21st in order to escape the ensuing annual bloodshed and mayhem. Instead, the townies go about their business like nothing’s ever happened, and you can what happens from there.
Not only that, but these characters aren’t fleshed out enough to be anything other than stock fodder for the maniac’s blade of choice in a script desperately in need of going under the knife. There’s the bad criminal. Then, there’s the criminal with a heart of gold who only has to take the law into his own hands because he’s $300,000 in debt. There’s that guy’s good-looking girlfriend (can you guess her fate?). Then there that guy’s mistake-prone brother (can you guess his fate?).
Not only that, but, technically, the film stinks of amateurism. Here’s a tip: when making a film with a handicam or steadycam or hand-held camera of any sort, it might actually serve the process to stand still every now and then. I have nothing against the herky-jerky documentary look of filmmaking, but, when you do it in a slasher film, you’re constantly giving the audience the impression that you’re seeing things from the perspective of the killer. When that ain’t the case, you’re confusing the story! And to complicate matters further, the story goes from daylight to nighttime in the flick of a switch. Literally! Guy goes into the abandoned school, and it’s bright daylight; guy runs from abandoned school only moments later, and it’s the dark of night. Really? Plus, as long as I’m piling it on, do you know any abandoned and clearly condemned schoolhouses fully equipped with mood lighting only? I mean, maybe that’s the reason that the schoolhouse was condemned, after all. The school district should be ashamed of itself.
To the film’s credit, it ends. However, the way it ends, makes absolutely no sense, and I (seriously) laughed for about five minutes. I guess when Padraig Reynolds says cut, his crew took him seriously. Stay tuned after the credits, though, because there are a few seconds more that try to ratchet up a few more scares … or was that a few more laughs?
RITES OF SPRING is produced by IFC Midnight, Red Planet Entertainment and White Rock Lake Productions in association with Vigilante Entertainment. DVD distribution is being handled by MPI Media Group. The disc looks and sounds about as well as any scream flick probably can and should – not a bad thing, just nothing all that special. A few sequences were poorly miked, but, when you’re making schlock-horror on a budget, you take what you get. The disc comes with a commentary track and some pleasant enough behind-the-scenes materials, if you’re inclined to check ‘em out. Again, nothing special, but it’s nice to see that the cast & crew put some thought into some aspects of their tale; it’s just too bad it wasn’t in the script.
NOT REALLY RECOMMENDED unless you’re a glutton for punishment or in the mood for a cheap laugh. It isn’t that RITES OF SPRING is poorly made. To the contrary, the cast and crew do they best they can to muster a few scares along the way. It’s just that so little of the script makes any coherent sense. It’s as if writer/director Reynolds had an idea – one based on a regular diet of slash and gore – and then he ran with it. And why not? Horror pics of this nature nearly always turn a profit, if not a few stomachs.
In the interests of fairness, the fine folks at MPI Media Group provided me with a DVD screener copy of RITES OF SPRING for the expressed purpose of completing this review.
Star Rating: An opening title card for Rites of Spring tells us that five teenage girls went missing on the first day of spring in 1984, and that a string of other young girls went missing the following year, again on the first day of spring, and that these disappearances continued annually for the next twenty-four years. We’re never told what state this happened in, although the film is littered with shots of cornfields, dilapidated barns, and rusty water … more