John’s Horror Corner: The Shrine (2010), a different story told in a very different way
MY CALL: An effective low budget horror telling a different story with some less utilized, effective methods. IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCH: This movie reminded me of Dagon (2001), which was also a pleasant surprise.
I chose to watch this movie thinking “Man, it’s been a while since I deliberately watched a movie that I knew would be awful.” Then I learned who was behind it. Director Jon Knautz brought us Jack Brooks Monster Slayer (2007) which, by the way, was a surprisingly fun horror comedy with a humble budget tactfully utilized. So now I had reason to be optimistic. Then I saw some surprisingly positive reviews on Amazon…now I’m really intrigued. How have I–The Horror Czar and founder of John’s Horror Corner–never heard of this until both Netflix and Amazon “suggested” it?
Carmen (Cindy Sampson; Supernatural, Being Human) is a journalist investigating the disappearance of an American tourist in Poland–evidently this tourist is one of many to disappear near a small village. She is joined by her photographer boyfriend Marcus (Aaron Ashmore; Warehouse 13, Lost Girl, Smallville) and Carmen’s colleague Sara (Meghan Heffern; The Fog [the 2005 remake], Chloe).
When they arrive to the strange, time forgotten village they are met by the most inhospitable people. In fact, the locals are quite hostile! Amid a mix of fear and anger the locals manage to shoe off the Americans. Deciding to ignore some obvious warning signs, our journalists venture into the nearby woods in which an other-worldly fog surrounds a shrine. It’s a statue of a demon…and it is CREEPY.
The strangeness of this story accelerates when our investigators are captured by the locals, who speak Polish (without subtitles) and force the Americans to “participate” in a creepy, brutal ritual. As the movie progresses, we learn more about what these people are trying to accomplish with this ritual.
A lot of the dialogue in this movie is in Polish, but isn’t subtitled for the audience. This is an interesting approach on the director’s part. Many movies will have a scene or two in which we’re meant to be as nervous as the protagonist over what it is their captors might be saying. But, in this film, this persists. This keeps the nature of their rituals all the more mysterious. This storytelling strategy (or secretive strategy) is what clearly separates this film from so many others. I, for one, rather appreciated that the director considered his audience to be capable of following this story without holding our hand via subtitles. After all, we’d never feel the Americans’ terror of “not” knowing what they’re saying when we “do know” what their intentions are. We don’t need our hands held.
The blood work and gore was effective with some nasty, brutal scenes. But the latex-based make-up work was very disappointing; far too ambitious for too small a budget and too little talent. Thankfully, the scenes were well-composed enough to defend themselves against this technical flaw.
The best word to describe this low budget horror release would have to be effective. Most horror actually fails to deliver any sense of horror beyond a few jump-scares or some too-gross-to-look moments or torture-porn-esque limb-sawing tactics. This movie succeeded at being truly creepy and mysterious. There may be better films out there aiming to accomplish the same goals, but probably not with such a low budget.