Jon Knautz has finally followed up "Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer" - unseen by me - with his sophomore effort, a horror mystery film titled "The Shrine". Knautz's previous film was admired by some and not so much by others; but it had enough supporters for the filmmaker to move on in his career. I do not know of "Jack Brooks" and its quality, as well as what it would mean to me, and I'm still debating on whether you can really tell too much from one movie by a director who has done at least one more. But as far as I know, independent filmmakers should be moving up instead of falling down in their careers these days. So if "The Shrine" is an indicator of the possible quality of "Jack Brooks", then I don't think I will ever feel the impulse to see the thing.
To avoid having to investigate the disappearance of some farmer's bees, two intern journalists named Carmen (Cindy Sampson) and Sara (Meghan Heffern) decide instead to go looking for a hiker who went missing near the fictional Polish village of Alvania. Along for the ride is Carmen's photographer boyfriend Marcus (Aaron Ashmore), with whom she's having a tough time upholding a steady relationship. When they arrive in the village, they discover that it's hidden in a thick and ominous fog. Also, there's a spooky demonic sort of statue that lays smack dab in the middle of everything. The village itself is populated by people who, for a bunch of Polish dudes and dolls, speak in very unconvincing accents.
But there's something more sinister going on here than bad Polish accents. The hiker was not the first tourist to go missing in these parts. The villagers are hostile and strange; they seem to practice a bizarre religion, and soon enough we get a taste of their bad habits, which includes human sacrifice via jamming a spiked mask into the face and the eyes with a sledgehammer. Clearly, just by coming there, Carmen and company have become the cult's next victims. Carmen's sacrifice is unsuccessful, and she starts seeing demon faces on everyone; even her beloved boyfriend!
"The Shrine" is only 84 minutes long, and it's fucking boring for at least 60 of those. The introduction to these characters is appallingly weak and the set-up is just overly simplistic. It evokes "The Wicker Man" and isn't quite dumb enough to try and borrow from it, but alas not smart enough to take influence from it either. The film employs some sorry excuse for build-up, and therefore we're stuck with characters that we don't care about as well as an ill-conceived premise for about the first hour. But the last twenty minutes are dynamite in comparison. There's actually some general creepiness going on there - the kind that should have been present throughout the entire picture - and from then on, it's trippy and therefore kind of entertaining.
But you literally can't make up for all that lost time by that point. However intriguing its third act may be, "The Shrine" is still lazy and bland. There's some decent gore and obviously quite a bit of heart (and not a lot of brains) was put into this little film, but nothing comes out the other end. For a low-budget production, it's visually competent but only ever shines during those moments that I've already praised. I'm starting to think that the last twenty minutes were the only minutes that Knautz and his pals actually gave a shit about. The film doesn't care for those who want a movie that is smart or innovative. Take my advice and go rent an occult horror film that respects a more intellectually thirsty audience instead.
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About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall (ryguy4738)
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more