April 3, 2012
Jon Knautz, Trevor Matthews and Brendan Moore
Aaron Ashmore as Marcus
Cindy Sampson as Carmen
Meghan Heffern as Sara
Ben Lewis as Eric Taylor
Trevor Matthews as Henryk
Often with horror it is difficult to avoid putting a film into one box or another within the first 10 minutes or so. Not necessarily “final judgment”, but the tone of a film and what is in store is usually revealed through the impact of the opening scene, the depth of the characters, the quality of the cinematography and the plausibility of the storyline. There are some films, however, that can mix that up and cause a changing perception – perhaps more than once – as the presentation continues. The The Shrine falls squarely into the latter category.
In the opening sequence we are treated to visuals of a religious sacrifice that spells the horrific and tragic end for a currently unnamed young man. Shortly afterward we meet Carmen (Cindy Sampson), an aggressive journalist with a hunger for investigating the “big story” and a propensity to get herself in trouble with the editor and find she’s covering the world’s cutest puppies instead. The disappearance of a young hiker in the Eastern Bloc has piqued her interest, but she is forbidden to pursue the story. If she had followed her employer’s orders the film would be over already, so we know what she does.
Accompanied by her trusty intern Sara (Meghan Heffern) and on-again/off-again boyfriend Marcus (Aaron Ashmore), Carmen heads out to investigate what appears to be a series of disappearances with one small European town in common as ground zero. As the investigation proceeds, the aggressive Carmen leads her crew so deep into the secrets of this small town that they are all in jeopardy.
The Shrine is an interesting piece of work that gripped my full attention, only to lose it as the dialogue and scenario unfolded – then grabbed it back again… only to lose it again. Then a slow burn of increasing interest factor turns into a finale that left me thinking this is a damn good film as the credit rolled. Overall the concept is great and the progression through the storyline ends up being just fine, but some consistency in the execution would have resulted in an A+ horror flick. The characters were okay – not completely bland yet a bit “movie of the week” for my taste. The attempts to add back-story and depth were there, but they were only minimally effective. One thing that drove me crazy through the entire film was Aaron Ashmore as Marcus – where have I seen him before? As familiar as his appearance and demeanor are I just couldn’t place him… but a check in IMDb revealed that he played Jimmy Olson in “Smallville” on TV, and although I never watched a single episode of that show I must have seen him in a commercial for it. Turns out he’s done a number of television series’ as well as over a dozen films over the last 12 years or so, so his face has been around. He’s pretty good. Still, I have yet to find the credit that gives the “ah ha!” moment to explain the familiarity.
There are three writers involved in The Shrine, Director Jon Knautz, along with Trevor Matthews and Brendan Moore. It is possible that this hodgepodge of writing talent is responsible for the seeming inconsistencies in the storyline and tone, especially in the final act where everything changes and this film suddenly gets serious. Cinematography is another area where some richness could have added to the experience, but this may be a function of budget rather than ability. The feeling is more like television’s “Charmed” than a feature film in terms of photography. But I’m not here to nitpick.
The result is that The Shrine is better than average by the end of the presentation, and although there are bumps and bruises along the way the viewing experience is generally positive. Trevor Matthews as Henryk is a stand-out among the performers, playing a rough and tumble pig farmer, and the final sequence makes the whole thing worth while. Now if I could just figure out where else I’ve seen Jimmy Olson, I’d be all set.