With the year 2011 coming towards the final few months, I finally discovered a special hidden horror. Every year I find one that thrills my horror bones, a film that I need to shout from the roof-tops and tell everyone about. In 2010 I was lucky because I had two delights with The Torment and The Objective (reviews soon to be added) but 2011 had been a poor year where most of my searches and end results led to boredom and I remember finding films hard to write about.
Then appearing from the dense mist, The Shrine appeared out of nowhere and became a horror that has entered into my all time favourite list.
The Shrine is quite possibly one of the best horror films of many years, a delightful romp that stunned me and will shock all those reading this because what starts off as something you probably sigh at, ends up being an Evil Dead fun ride that will make you beg for a sequel.
Jon Knautz, the man behind the “Ash!” inspired Jack Brooks Monster Slayer, delivered a wonderful tale that has become a cult classic among fans. Knautz for me personally had disappeared after the success of Jack and when his name appeared on screen I have to say my interest in this film peaked up because I knew it could be something good. Straight to DVD horrors are a mixed breed, with 90% being beyond awful, but Knautz mixed a whole bunch of horror genres, and dished out a tasty dish.
The film starts though with the negative, a moment that even I thought “Oh not again!” Here we have the sight of a young man all set to be tortured by a man in a white cloak which looks like a whole human sacrifice gig. Echoes of yet another Hostel rip off will fill your mind and for the first twenty minutes you have to forgive yourself for not wanting to press the off button, because The Shrine is ticking all the right boxes of yet another torture-porn flick, that was way to popular a few years back.
After seeing the set up we move to journalist Carmen (Sampson), who is determined to get a really big story and make a name of herself. Unhappy with her new assignment of “strange going on with bees!”, she uncovers a story about missing tourists in Poland which ties up the opening scene of the film. Ignoring her editors assignment and with reluctant photographer boyfriend Marcus (Ashmore) and eager assistant Sara (Heffern) in tow, the trio travel to the sleepy town of Alvania, where they find their arrival not so welcome. So far all very Hostel and countless other films of this nature and it continues with this theme for a while yet.
The usual happens, the villagers act suspicious, there is a weird man cutting up a pig, the villagers get angry because the trio are asking questions and soon they are demanding them to leave. It was here I was expecting them to either get kidnapped or book into a hostel but then we get to the first plot twist, and that is the sight of the lingering fog that hangs over a certain part of the forest. Despite the best intentions of Marcus’s to convince them to get back into their car and get the heck out of there, Carmen makes the wrong choice and convinces him to investigate this dense wall eerie, unnatural fog.
It’s here we switch to the work of Clive Barker, a thrilling set piece that had me glued to my seat. I had not seen quite a freaky scene all that year and this is when The Shrine started to get my full attention. Sara enters the fog first only for then to disappear, Carmen follows and its here we realise that when inside, time sort of stops, there is no sound or visibility which seems bad enough until Carmen encounters a statue like a gargoyle right in the middle of this place. She stops to take a photo, but then something wrong, something supernatural happens and its here, you the viewer realise that this film is not going to be about Hostel after all but something different, something Evil Dead!
Its amazing at how much The Shrine manages to fool you into thinking what direction this is going and I doubt many avid horror fans could second guess the outcome of the film. This is one of the most perfect horror plots of many years and what adds to the whole mystery is the lack of subtitles in certain scenes. When the Polish people are talking among the innocent trio for at times, a lengthy debate, we get no incline into what they are saying. This makes us the viewer be in the shoes of these innocent characters because we are confused with them and while it may annoy some people, for me I thought it was an ingenious idea by the makers.
The final third act will blow you way! It totally makes you forget the dodgy moments that surround the film. Yes the characters do really stupid things and the dialogue at times is really bad, but its all worthwhile thanks to the final 25 minutes which makes a mockery of films that get a higher status at the box-office. I can not tell you how good the climax is. Its like a wow, a full stunning assault to the brain that I did not expect, I am telling all Evil Dead fans that you will lap up the climax for all its worth.
From that said film, to other films like The Wicker Man, Hostel, The Ruins, to Barker to Bava, there are many elements of this film which have been influenced by past greats and yet somehow it all works. Even the final shot is not what you will expect, there is no daft twist or sudden rise of the Bogeyman, its a simple resolution that begs for The Shrine 2 to be made.
This year, Knautz has made a new film called The Cleaning Lady which is once again winning rave reviews, a film I haven’t had a chance to see yet. If its half as good as this film then it will be a real treat because at the end of the day, I only had one statement to make in 2011…..
“Take a bow The Shrine, the most surprising and terrific underrated horror gem of the year…..”