The Shrine – 2010 –Contains minor spoilers under The Flick portion.
Starring: Cindy Sampson, Aaron Ashmore, Megan Heffern, Trevor Matthews
The Gist: Three journalist head to the Polish countryside in search of a missing US backpacker and a potentially ground breaking story about the disappearances of 5 hikers in the region. It’s not long before the trio are caught up in a deadly secret lurking in a mysterious fog in the forest outside a village where the most recent missing hiker was last seen.
Tags: This is has been tagged as a horror movie and a horror it is. It is more in the style of a slow burn horror film – builds up to the scare and blood giving you a few drops of blood in the first 5 minutes then leaving you cold for a short time. The cover art of this movie clearly lets the observer know that this is horror flick. A woman standing in a white nightgown, the top half covered in blood and her face covered by a black iron mask that kind of looks insectile (to me anyway).
Notable: This is a Canadian film, written and director by Jon Knautz with Trevor Matthews, who also stars in the movie, billed as one of the writers and producers. The cast is also predominantly Canadian and the movie, set in Poland, was filmed in, you guessed it, Canada (Pickering, Toronto, Vaughn Ontario). To me, that makes it a Canadian flick.
The Flick: As tagged, this is a slow burn horror flick that takes its time to build to the finale that is truly worth the singe to get to the scorch. It starts with murder in a most gruesome way but then shifts to developing the story and introducing the characters and the setting. Carmen and Sara are reporters for a non-descript magazine and Marcus is Carmen’s photographer boyfriend. Carmen is insistent on following the story of backpacker, Eric Taylor, who has gone missing in Poland just like 5 other travelers; apparently no one has bothered to investigate the disappearances. Carmen gets a hold of Taylor’s journal and finds out he was seen in a remote Polish village which she must visit to break the story or lose her job. Sara the intern tags along doing whatever Carmen is doing and having no qualms about doing questionable and potentially dangerous things to keep up with Carmen. Marcus joins them unaware that the trip is a secret: “No one in the whole fucking world knows we’re here”. Never a good line in a horror movie. They proceed to make it to the village where locals eye them suspiciously and they encounter a kind of holy trinity – the creepy butcher, the creepy little girl and the creepy priest. You gotta have at least one of these in your horror flick. Carmen starts up a conversation with creepy little girl enthusiastically proclaiming they are from America (sounding sarcastic in her enthusiasm). As soon they start asking questions about Eric Taylor, creepy butcher appears and runs them off. What’s this…the most popular place in the village…the church. Hello creepy priest in fancy robes and big hat. The priest angrily orders Henryk to….I don’t know what, he’s speaking Polish but you get the gist of it. Now most sensible people will take the hint and bugger off but this a horror movie, where’s the fun in that. “Nothing here for you English” Henryk threatens but his eyes are more pleading than menacing. This takes care of introducing the characters. We move onto the mysterious fog and the strangeness of the villages begins to intensify. Carmen enters the fog and makes a startling discovery– a statue. What the WTF is startling about that. Ohhhh it looks like a demon. Its bat like demonic face snarls behind viscous teeth and in its talon clawed hand it is hold something sort of round. It’s a creepy looking bugger, similar to the statue in the Exorcist. Carmen of course doesn’t leave but takes a picture. Walking around it she looks up only to see that the head of the statue followed her progress and starts to bleed, the ball pulses and gushes red goodness. From here the story propels the trio into trying to escape from the villagers, being drugged and kidnapped and befalling unpleasant and unexpected fates. But it’s not what you think and this is where the story really shines, giving the viewer a twist and bit of a surprise as to what is really going on in the village. Demons. That’s all I’m going to say: “I have tasted the blood and flesh of angels.” Best line of any horror movie I’ve seen.
The Cast: Cindy Sampson plays the main character Carmen. I have previously seen her in a minor role in the series Supernatural (best T.V. show ever). Her character is not very likable and kind of annoying but in the last 20 minutes of the flick, she is great. Sampson is a good actress and pulls off the self-centred journalist well. Aaron Ashmore plays Marcus and is good as the loyal yet annoyed boyfriend. His character doesn’t clamour to be hero of the flick but unfortunately this kind of leads to the character being one dimensional. Megan Heffern is the innocent Sara following Carmen without question or hesitation. Like the character of Marcus, Sara is a one dimensional character and does not stand out. Trevor Matthews, who produced and co-wrote the film, plays Henryk. He seems too…unthreatening to be a vicious killer as he is portrayed at the beginning. He is able to emote the turmoil he feels about what he does to the characters with his eyes – his hard outer shell is broken in the sadness of his eyes. This is the first thing that I have seen him in and will look for more titles with him as actor to see what else he can do.
Critique Much: I first read about this movie on the website Blood Disgusting and was able to find it on DVD shortly after its release on July 15. I haven’t read any reviews other than the Bloody Disgusting one. My critique: The flick is a good, slow burn movie. The acting is decent but the characters are kind of shallow and flat with the exception of Henryk; the story is interesting but does take almost the entire movie to get to the point. The last 20-25 minutes is when it really heats up and gets to the bottom of the fog, the statue and why the priest and Henryk are killing innocent tourists. The pacing may be unappealing to viewers who are impatient to get to the action. This isn’t a blood and gore centric flick, for the most part. Most of the bloody bits are either shown very briefly or saved for the end of the flick and even then it is fairly mild compared to a lot of other horror movies out there. The film is fairly short coming in at 1hr 25 min which is not a flaw or critique because it manages to get a full story in that amount time and doesn’t drag on and on.
Why would I recommend this movie? Because in spite of some of the lack lustre characters, this is an enjoyable movie that works with slow pacing and packs a punch at the end. If you’re looking for gore, blood and violence this may not be a good choice. If you don’t like slow paced movie without a lot of flash and flare, this may not be for you. When I first starting watching the flick I was a bit bored after the initial 5 minutes but I didn’t give up and I’m glad I didn’t. After about another 10 minutes, I was able to get back into it. I recommend giving it a chance. It’s a short movie and an interesting story.
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