Starring: Cindy Sampson, Aaron Ashmore, Meghan Heffern, Trevor Matthews
Not Rated (probable R for Strong Violence and Gore, and Language)
Isn’t it awesome when a movie you had low expectations for turns out to be good? To be quite honest, I wasn’t expecting much from “The Shrine.” A direct-to-DVD horror flick with a no-name cast that was too cheap to be sent by the MPAA (not that that means much) isn’t a ringing endorsement. In fact, it’s usually a sign that says “Stay Away!” Imagine my surprise when I found out that not only is it not a waste of time, it’s actually good.
Carmen (Sampson) is a workaholic journalist who is in hot water with her boyfriend Marcus (Ashmore) and her boss (Philip Craig). Marcus thinks she works too much, and her previous story apparently got her into hot water. She has a hunch that a number of disappearances in Europe are connected, but her boss doesn’t want to hear it (he assigns her a story about a decreasing bee population). Undaunted, Carmen goes to Poland anyway, with Marcus and her intern Sarah (Heffern) in tow. Of course, when they get there they realize that chasing this story could cost them their lives.
Until the bloody climax, “The Shrine” is less of a horror film than a mystery. We don’t know what’s going on, and director Jon Knautz does a good job of keeping us in suspense. From the minute the trio arrives in this little town, we know that there’s something seriously sinister at work here. Knautz also has a gift for atmosphere, both in its visual sense and its story. I never knew where the story was going next.
Knautz takes his time, too, which is to the film’s benefit. This kind of story demands a slow build-up. Apart from a shocking act of violence in the beginning to set us on edge, there’s little in the way of action or gore until the film enters its third act. The reveal is a bit of a letdown because it goes a route that we’ve seen before many times, but it’s crafted with skill, so I’m not coming down too harshly on it.
Unfortunately, the performances are merely adequate. No one is bad (considering the genre, that’s almost a compliment) and we are with the heroes every step of the way, but the main actors don’t dazzle with their thespian abilities. Part of the reason has to do with the script, which contains a few clunkers, but no one displays great range here.
I was surprised at how involved I got with this film. It’s not perfect, but if you’re looking for a low-budget chiller, this is a good pick.