Director – Jon Knautz
Cast – Aaron Ashmore, Cindy Sampson, Meghan Heffern, Ben Lewis, Laura DeCarteret, Trevor Matthews, Monica Bugajski, Connor Stanhope
Release Year – 2011
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Writer/director Jon Knautz first won my heart with is debut feature film, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, and had me more than stoked when word came out that he was finally giving us another film, and a supernatural religious effort at that. While the story suffers some faults at times it does deliver plenty of solid horror in the end, and couple with Knautz’ fantastic direction we are given one of the most long-awaited horror films of recent time – a very worthwhile and truly creepy effort that comes with plenty of gore-soaked demon carnage.
Eager to break from the boring stories she is given, young and desperate journalist Carmen(Cindy Sampson) catches wind of the mysterious disappearance of a young American backpacking in Poland. Along with her boyfriend Marcus(Aaron Ashmore) and her intern Sara(Meghan Heffern), the three set out to the Polish village where the man was last seen and come across a religious cult that relies heavily on human sacrifice.
If you know me then you know that I love religious horror, and coming from Jon Knautz I was expecting a pretty awesome film, and that is exactly what I was given. The storyline is a very simple one, but I can never get tired of unsuspecting young adults going to a far-away land they are unfamiliar with and finding themselves in a very regrettable situation – ESPECIALLY when it involves nosy journalists like Carmen. Coming in at just 85 minutes in length, Knautz wastes little time in setting up the story and quickly dispatches our characters to Poland, where the “goods” take place. Some may balk at how long it took for the true horror to kick in once our characters reached the Polish town, and while I understand that (especially given the short runtime) I did not find much fault in such development because it did come with plenty of tension, albeit from the townsfolk chasing them around and not exactly relating to the demon aspect. This segment did include possibly the creepiest sequence of the film, involving “the shrine” found in the middle of a densely fogged forest, which I found to be one of the creepiest scenes in have seen in recent time, so not all was lost during this somewhat slow first half of the film. While I was beginning to slightly ponder that The Shrine was not going to be as good as I wanted it to be, Knautz and crew kicked me in the face when the second half began and the horror kicked in as well. Once things get going the carnage never stops, and we are given 40 or so minutes of awesome human sacrifice and demon possession scenes that completely made up for the lack of horror during the first half of the film. If I may reference any film where I came across a scenario like that, I will say this film comes off like The Descent, with the first half being interesting but a bit slow, and the second half maniacal and awe-inducing – yeah, just like that. The religious element was perfectly portrayed, as was the usage of the demon possession scenes, and much to my enjoyment I loved the usage of our characters, namely Marcus, Carmen, Sara, and Henryk(Trevor Matthews; Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer), each of whom served a positive role and was used just the way I wanted them to be used as Knautz left the cliches elsewhere and focused on giving us a solid story despite the background behind the film’s heinous events being summed up into one measly sentence at the end of this piece.
Knautz complimented his awesome and simple story with fantastic direction, giving me 85 minutes of engaging material thanks to great execution of every element involved. The sets were great, his camerawork was crafty, and his tension was effective even during the film’s non-horror scenes that kept me at bay during the first half. Now, his execution of the horror itself is the biggest selling point for this solid sophomore effort of his. Starting with “the shrine”, which was spine-tingingly awesome, and moving forward from there, Knautz gave me some of the best horror I have seen in a long while, which included a full-frontal approach to the human sacrifice scenes, involving an iron mask nailed on the person’s face, and incredible action sequences involving the demon possession. He held nothing back during these scenes, giving us a very creepy final sequence that consisted not only of great demon action but buckets of awesome live-action gore coming from very enjoyable kill sequences. Now, the only thing I foresee people finding fault with regarding his direction is the non-usage of sub-titles during the Polish-speaking scenes. I at first was thinking that maybe my copy of the film was not a Region 1 copy, but I soon learned that in fact the lack of sub-titles was intentional, and for darn good reasons. Simply put, it keeps the viewer just as lost and confused as the protagonists are. Unable to understand what these strange people are yelling and chanting, the tension is raised as you do not have a clue as to what is coming next, making for a simple but very effective idea from a newly crowned master of horror.
Overall, The Shrine is an awesome addition to Jon Knautz growing repertior of solid horror films and one of the best horror efforts to be released in 2011. The storyline is cool and comes with numerous enjoyable elements, and his direction is top-notch in delivering unrelenting horror once things get going. Had the pacing issues in the film been resolved a bit I would have given this a forgiving 8-rating, but nonetheless his great horror flick comes in with a very solid 7-rating and one of the most enjoyable horror experiences of recent time. Highly recommended.