DIRECTOR Jon Knautz WRITER Jon Knautz; Brendan Moore; Trevor Matthews STARS Christopher Lee; Barbara Shelley; Andrew Keir DVD & BLU-RAY Now
Coming to us as a second feature-length attempt, The Shrine is not quite what I was expecting from the maker of Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer. Where that particular film was daft fun ‘n’ games, here we have a slow-burner that indicates Jon Knautz could develop to be an interesting, varied filmmaker, having also penned these stories.
The plot, fairly bare-boned. A thoroughly unlikable journalist — aren’t we all — ignores her editor to fly out with her intern and long-suffering photographer boyfriend to Poland, in search of a scoop, having become intrigued by the disappearance of a young traveller. His journal talks of a remote village, its people cold and distant, and a mysterious fog on its outskirts. Naturally, they are warned off, press ahead regardless, yadda yadda yadda.
The film’s big strength is its dialogue, or lack thereof. The absence of subtitles for the villagers’ dialogue was a smart move; the audience — well, other than Polish speakers — is as much in the dark as the American trio, emphasising their isolation. When the women are wordlessly, methodically stripped in preparation for ritual, again, this underlines the point, the characters clueless as to what is about to occur, just as the viewer is, no impression alluded to by the tone of speech. It’s an effective method of creating tension, implemented very well here, complementing the overall sense of creepiness already instilled by the characters’ encounters with the aforementioned fog. Also done well is the more obvious reiteration that they’re on their own, so often groan-inducing with the tiresome emphasis on a lack of mobile-phone signal. Here, it’s naturally delivered dialogue via a character’s natural irritation.
The only real criticism here is that of perhaps too much gore. This I found slightly jarring, after what is otherwise a very subtle approach. In some cases this can make for added impact, once the shit hits the fan, so to speak, but this particular story would probably be a lot more creepy if the eventual violence was more implied. A low budget doesn’t do this any favours, a shot of a disembowelled character whose spilled innards are clearly sausages — and is that a ripped paper bag they’ve popped out of? — inducing a hearty chuckle. Still, this is but a small complaint. The film gets right back on form by delivering a climax that keeps the viewer in the dark, a mere two, solemn sentences ending the story, no elaboration for a tidy explanation of events given. I eagerly anticipate Knautz’s next move. Should you not be convinced by this write-up, perhaps the fact Ryan Shore’s score bagged itself a Grammy nomination will lure you in.