The Shrine (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Standout horror films tend to share one commonality: delivering images that dig deep in the mind. Jon Knautz directs “The Shine” with focus, confidence, and the aspiration to be great despite a few limitations of the script and acting. By the end of the film, I sat in my chair quite shaken, a part of me very impressed by what I had gone through, unable to help but stare blankly as the credits roll. I felt as though I needed to gather my bearings before moving on.
Carmen (Cindy Sampson) is a journalist who is assigned by her boss to cover a story about missing bees in a farm. Tired of writing about what she believes to be inconsequential stories, soon Carmen is piqued by a case involving Americans who have gone missing in Europe over the course of five years. She finds it strange that although their bodies have never been found, their luggages always end up at various airports. The journalist feels so compelled to dig deeper into the missing persons story, she convinces her boyfriend (Aaron Ashmore) and intern (Meghan Heffern) to accompany her to a rural area in Poland—without the permission of her superior. Once they get to the village, they learn quickly that they are not at all welcome.
Part of the fun is we believe that the story is going in one direction but it turns out to be on another direction. About a third of the dialogue is in Polish and I admired that the filmmakers did not feel the need to have subtitles just so we know what each character is saying exactly. By providing no translation, we end up as confused and terrified as the Americans who learn that what is happening is so over their heads that they have started to drown the minute they landed at the airport.
The script has room for improvement and this is most apparent during the exposition. Exchanges between Marcus and Carmen sound as though they are right off a soap opera. We learn that the relationship is in trouble because Carmen struggles separating her career from her personal life, but the dialogue comes across too heavy-handed. Thus, the characters’ anger and frustration feel too much like a performance—a bad stage performance. It is clear that the dialogue is not the film’s strong suit. The problem is not the acting because during chases and desperate moments, Ashmore and Sampson are highly convincing.
It is the correct decision to minimize the CGI. Perhaps it is most utilized to establish the strangeness and eeriness of the fog sitting in only one defined area of the woods. Instead, masks and heavy makeup are employed during the third act. There are even deaths that occur off-screen but we hear just enough to know exactly what is going on. It is a piece of work that leaves plenty for the imagination.
Based on the screenplay by Jon Knautz and Brendan Moore, “The Shrine” builds a consistently increasing tension during its rising action and leaves us off-balance when it begins to dawn on us that maybe it is not what it all appears to be. It manages to be original in its own way even though its main inspiration—which I will not mention considering it might spoil the film—is as clear as a fog-less day.