Directed by Jon Knautz
Distributed by IFC Films
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for two kinds of movies- movies about football and movies about journalists. So as you can well imagine, I was completely on board from the start for writer/director Jon Knautz’s The Shrine, which is centered around a group of journalists who set out to investigate the disappearances of several tourists over the years from a small rustic village in Poland in hopes of landing the story of a lifetime. However, the trio discover much more sinister goings-on than just a few disappearances when they arrive, and as any good genre fan knows, when you unearth dark secrets, there are deadly consequences to face.
At the start of The Shrine we meet hard-headed and work-obsessed journalist Carmen (Sampson), who uncovers the story about the missing tourists in Poland and enlists her reluctant photographer boyfriend Marcus (Ashmore) and eager assistant Sara (Heffern) to tag along for the trip. However, when they arrive to the sleepy town of Alvania, they find out the locals are none too thrilled with the arrival of tourists, which only adds fuel to Carmen’s desire for the truth. Undeterred from doing some poking around, she convinces Marcus and Sara that there’s something strange going on around them that needs to be uncovered even though they all know they’re facing certain death by continuing their journey.
But as the trio continue to uncover some of the dark secrets of Alvania, more questions are raised, and soon they find themselves caught in the middle of some ritualistic traditions that prove the old adage true: Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. To give away anything else in the plot would definitely spoil the experience for genre fans out there, but let’s just say that once the film hits its third act, all hell literally breaks loose in a truly shocking fashion.
Written and directed by Jon Knautz, The Shrine is a complete departure for the filmmaker from his last genre effort, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, which was a delightfully funny send-up of the monster movie subgenre. With The Shrine Knautz plays it straight this time, which demonstrates that as a storyteller he has a clear grasp on how to deliver the chills for horror fans of all ages. The movie itself is a clever and creepy exploration of some of our worst fears: kidnapping in foreign countries, ritualistic violence and demonic possession; and while each act of the movie feels distinctly different, Knautz masterfully finds a way to make each act feel seamless and weaves the tonal shifts in the film together, creating a compelling and haunting film in the end.
One note of caution for those of you out there who are a little hesitant to see movies that involve foreign languages- much of the third act of the film (as well as many other moments sprinkled throughout) is spoken in Polish, and there are no subtitles used in the film either. For some this will be bothersome, but for me, I kind of dug that approach as I felt like I was just as much in the dark with what our protagonists were facing as they were. There’s something utterly terrifying seeing people planning to do you harm and you can’t even understand anything of what they’re saying so you just have no idea what’s coming at you (a la Hostel).
For you Jack Brooks fans out there, Knautz has reteamed with Trevor Matthews in The Shrine (who also served as a producer on both projects), but if you’re looking for any traces of the wise-cracking slacker plumber who fought against demons a few years back, he’s nowhere to be found now. Instead, Matthews has shed that persona completely for The Shrine and deliver an utterly frightening performance with sheer body language alone (he mostly speaks Polish throughout the movie). I can’t help but wonder just why we don’t see him doing more movies because Matthews’ performance in The Shrine proves that he’s one of the more versatile actors working in the genre today, and regardless if he’s making you laugh or terrifying you with his steely gaze, Matthews always manages to hold command over any scene he’s featured in.
In terms of issues with the film, some of the dialogue comes off a little hokey at the start and I never truly bought into the chemistry between Sampson and Ashmore, but honestly, neither of those issues were deal-breakers for me. As a whole, The Shrine is an incredibly tense and entertaining cinematic experience that should keep horror fans guessing until the very end and further proves that Knautz is a filmmaking force to be reckoned with. Reminiscent of films like of The Exorcist, The Wicker Man (the original of course), and The Evil Dead I and II, The Shrine is a not-to-be-missed flick for you modern genre fans out there.
3 1/2 out of 5