Shrine, The (2010)

 Reviewed by Pierre-Wolf

Starring Cindy Sampson, Aaron Ashmore, Meghan Heffern

Directed by Jon Knautz

Eager for a break, fledgling journalist Carmen (Cindy Sampson) follows a lead from a missing local teenager’s journal which takes her all the way to a small village in rural Poland. Carmen’s photographer/boyfriend Marcus (Aaron Ashmore) joins her, as does her young colleague Sara (Meghan Heffern). Once they begin to investigate the boy’s disappearance, they will find no shortage of excuses to turn back, including xenophobic locals, a creepy young girl and a strange fog that hovers, stationary, in the nearby forest. Of course, turning back isn’t in the cards for these three, and it isn’t long before the girls are kidnapped by hooded Poles, and photog Ashmore trades the Canon SLR in for an old Luger to do himself some good old-fashioned druid hunting.

Canadian co-writer/director Jon Knautz is clearly a talented filmmaker and a card-carrying horror fan, as evidenced by the reception of his debut feature Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer. For his follow-up, The Shrine, he’s assembled a very capable cast, and no ingredient has been spared in what initially promises to be a truly memorable cinematic recipe: old Polish druids, check; bizarre mists, check; bleeding statues, check; a nemesis who looks like he should be playing lead guitar in a Swedish speed metal band, check. There’s also surely enough Polish content to qualify for funding from the Polish Consulate of Canada. Sadly, it takes The Shrine much of its running time before finally settling into a forward momentum. Granted, the climactic sequence features exorcisms, monsters, loads of old school gore, and a revelatory twist, but by that time it’s too little, too late.

Access to an HD camera does not a movie make, and technically things are off to a shaky start in a film whose visual palette seems strangely inspired by late 80s/early 90s genre television like Friday the 13th – The Series and Forever Knight. It’s consistently dull to look at, which is a problem when so little is happening plot-wise. The film is undeniably Canadian, eh? Yet Ashmore’s line, “We’re American!” when facing off a gang of Polish thugs brought unintentional guffaws from an audience that just didn’t buy it. The action is low-impact and limited to foot chases in the woods, as well as old-fashioned fist fights that could’ve been choreographed by the same team that oversaw Bo and Luke’s fancy fisticuffs on The Dukes of Hazzard back in the day. Performances range from effective to hammy and stand out in the latter case, in a movie that takes itself so seriously.

In Canada as much as anywhere else, there’s an ever-widening gap between no-budget, DIY-style movies and the more polished features that benefit from multi-million dollar budgets (horror films in the latter category are few and far between – are you listening, federal and provincial film funders?). More and more movies like The Shrine are falling into that gap. While The Shrine is undoubtedly done in by certain questionable creative choices and lazy plotting, many of its flaws are of a purely budgetary nature – which is a shame, because it’s clear that Knautz has a vision, and enough courage to make big movies for small prices.

2 out of 5

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