Rites of Spring
Rites of Spring (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Ben (AJ Bowen) and Amy (Katherine Randolph) are $300,000 in debt. Teaming up with quick-tempered Paul (Sonny Marinelli), the trio plan to break into a wealthy couple’s home, kidnap their young daughter, and collect a ransom of two million dollars. Meanwhile, Rachel (Anessa Ramsey) and Alyssa (Hannah Bryan) are taken by an older gentleman (Marco St. John) at the parking lot of a bar. He believes that every first day of spring, a ritual must be performed for a creature’s sustenance which in turn will produce good harvest.
To chalk up the “Rites of Spring,” written and directed by Padraig Reynolds, as an accidental gem, a fusion of crime-thriller and slasher horror, is a claim that holds little weight given that plenty of attempts to combine conflicting moods and tones often go very, very wrong–especially when it comes to filmmakers making their feature-length directorial debut.
It would have been too easy to make the robbers be the bad guys who ought to meet their comeuppance somewhere down the line. But instead of traversing the more convenient route, the writing makes an attempt to make at least one or two of them likable. Though Ben takes part in planning the robbery as well as implementing it, his moral struggle and fear of getting caught are communicated between moments he cannot undo once crossed. Similarly, the kidnapped women could have been easily treated as cattle to be gutted and disposed of once the screaming stopped. One of them turns out to be a fighter, Ramsey quite nicely casted for her ability to exude hatred against her tormentor while balancing a special vulnerability in her to make us care for her well-being.
The chase scenes are standard, but they are handled with precision. Each one radiates an energy so upbeat that we are pulled into the moment. The characters running away from an assailant actually look like they’re fighting for their lives, so when the hunted trips we root for her to get up and continue running instead of shaking our heads in disapproval and frustration toward a shoddy script. Moreover, I enjoyed that the film does not rely on poorly-lit rooms to amp up the tension. The most heart-pounding chases occur in broad daylight or under bright lights which is a welcome and refreshing change.
I wished there had been more details about the rituals performed for the creature. The audience get glimpses like free-flowing blood from slashed wrists being collected using a bowl, the clean-up of the person being bestowed, and the act of putting animal heads over the “clean” sacrifice. The deeper it gets into the ritual by showing specific details, the easier it is to buy into a premise that may be considered quite bizarre.
Although the story lacks complexity to make it truly stand out and has an ending so abrupt that it might be missed if one blinks at the wrong time, “Rites of Spring” leaves me wanting more in the best way possible. It is always a great feeling when we can almost touch the filmmaker’s glowing enthusiasm and willingness to try something slightly different from behind the lens.