We’ve been anxiously awaiting Jon Knautz’s next genre effort ever since having the opportunity to check out his 2008 horror comedy Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer. It seems that the wait is finally over for us as well as legions of other fans as Knautz’s latest, The Shrine, is set to hit VOD platforms tomorrow (July 15).
Recently Dread Central had the opportunity to talk with writer/director Knautz about his creepy and unsettling flick The Shrine (review here) as well as find out what’s next on his plate for directing projects, including when all of us Jack Brooks fans will get another taste of the reluctant hero who traded in battling clogged drains for battling evil demons.
For Knautz moving away from the realm of horror comedies was an absolute when he first started putting The Shrine together following the release of Jack Brooks. “It was absolutely intentional on my part to do something completely different in the horror genre after direction Jack Brooks. There’s so much humor to that movie that honestly, it was kind of easy to hide behind the comedy as a storyteller so I wanted to make sure my follow-up was something more straightforward because I really wanted to challenge myself. I think it’s far harder to make a straight-up horror movie where you need to scare people than it is to make a movie where you’re trying to invoke laughs throughout. So I wanted to push myself to see if I could do it, and I think I have with The Shrine.”
Knautz went on to discuss his approach in putting together the story of The Shrine and what prompted his decision to not have any subtitles in the film even though a majority of the dialogue is in Polish once the film’s protagonists arrive in a sleepy village to begin investigating the whereabouts of a string of missing vacationers that visited the fictional Polish town of Alvania but never made it out alive.
“When I put the story for The Shrine together, I started with the reveal in the third act and worked backwards from there,” explained Knautz. “I wanted different parts of the movie to have different feels to them so that the audience would be left guessing about what’s exactly happening in the film until the very end. But in terms of pacing and feel, I thought about movies with a slow burn that I’ve always enjoyed including The Exorcist. That’s the feel I went with for the first two acts of the movie, and then I wanted to make sure I hit horror fans hard in the third act, and that’s when the stakes and the action both escalate to an extreme level.”
“Not having the film subtitled was a conscientious decision on my part. I wanted viewers to be as immersed into the world of The Shrine as possible so not having the subtitles allows you to be just as in the dark as the three main characters are once they arrive in the village. Plus, if we would have subtitled the movie, it would have revealed far too much early on, and that would have ruined what happens in the third act for everyone. Besides, it’s always scarier when you don’t exactly know what’s going on so I like to keep fans a little off-balance whenever I can,” added Knautz.
The idea of fear coming from the unknown was also a huge part of the ritual ceremony Knautz created in The Shrine as the director discussed how he deliberately didn’t do research on cults or rituals when he was crafting his story. “When it came to the ritualistic parts of The Shrine story, I can remember how affected I felt watching those kinds of scenes in Apocalypto and wanted to incorporate that feeling in my film as well. Especially when you’re doing these kinds of rituals in a foreign language and as a viewer you have no idea what is going on, I think that’s scarier. But when it came time to write out our rituals, I purposefully didn’t do any research because I wanted our story to feature a religious practice that was absolutely unheard of. To me that idea was far scarier than actual rituals or religions we may know about already.”
Even though Knautz is incredibly pleased with how The Shrine came together, he discussed a few of the challenges he faced while getting the project completed.
“I think the biggest challenges for me were money, of course, and trying to keep the story in The Shrine from ever going stale for horror fans,” said Knautz. “I had so many extravagant ideas for The Shrine as I went along, but the budget held me back a little bit in that respect. But honestly, I am so incredibly happy with how the movie turned out that I don’t think I’d change a thing. I approached this movie in a very technical manner because there were a lot of very ambitious moments that were important to telling this story, with the amount of characters, se pieces and trying to shoot somewhere that could pass for rural Poland. But I decided after I was done with The Shrine that the next project I do is going to be far more about characters than a lot of effects and locations.”
So what exactly is next for Knautz then? The director said, “For my next project I decided it was time to go outside of the horror genre, and I’m making a very dysfunctional dark comedy that we should be starting filming on this September. This time everything’s about the characters, and it’s really dark, too. But don’t expect me to stay out of horror too long- I love the genre way too much to stay away too long.”
Unfortunately, though, it looks like Jack Brooks fans will have to wait a little longer to see what will happen to the titular character in terms of a planned sequel. “We’ve had a story done for a Jack Brooks sequel for some time now, but I don’t really know when we’ll get to make it. When we do, though, I think fans of the first will be blown away because we do want to raise the bar a bit for the second time around. But it’s not going to be happening anytime in the near future.”
Special thanks to Jon for taking the time to speak with Dread Central. Look for The Shrine on VOD starting July 15th!
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