Crash Analysis: THE SHRINE (Canada, 2010)

Intriguing enough to win you over in the end The Shrine

A trio heads to Poland to discover why people go missing…

Carmen, a reporter played by Cindy Sampson, wants to cover a big story instead of local fodder. So when a young man from the area goes missing in Poland, she heads to eastern Europe with her photography boyfriend, Marcus (Aaron Ashmore of “Smallville” fame), and intern Sara (Meghan Heffern). There, they discover a creepy little village where the traveler was last seen. The village folk don’t take kindly to the likes of foreigners poking around, and the trio’s told in short order to leave. They remain, of course, and uncover the secret as to why many have gone missing for decades.

Sound a bit cliché? True, but writer/director Jon Knautz, along with co-writers Brendan Moore and Trevor Matthews, twisted the tired and true into something subtle yet compelling – especially during the third act, which counts the most for a great yarn. They also did something else – no subtitles for when the Canadian cast speaks Polish. A risky move for impatient moviegoers.

Many people who loathe the movie call upon the lack of subtitles as their biggest turn-off. But they’re missing the point. The call to keep the movie subtitle free works because the audience is in the dark as much as the characters on the screen. And by film’s end, if you can’t figure out what the hell happened and why, maybe you should indulge in mindless Hollywood entertainment instead.

The acting is pretty damn solid, especially from the frustrated Ashmore, and woman on a mission, Sampson. Their portrayals totally connect with the viewer and we feel for them. In fact, every time Ashmore hesitated or made a move, I felt my body doing the same thing. Here, Knautz should get the thanks for bringing a strong story to life while maintaining suspense at a steady rate. Admittedly, with what seemed to be a rehashed tale, I let down my guard a bit only to be surprised and impressed by the climax.

Cinematographer James Griffith maintained a steady look and feel throughout, which created a vibrant yet subdued atmosphere. Even in the movie’s darker moments, lighting-wise, that is, it’s easy to see what’s transpiring with every frame. Kent McIntyre, responsible for art direction, did his best to present the rural parts of Ontario as that of backwoods Poland, but he could have tried a bit harder, especially with the vehicle choices that would most likely not be found in a poor section of a former Eastern Bloc state. Set director Patrick Tarr kept things simple and generic, and did a pretty fine job in making us think this was filmed far across the Atlantic. The major problem may have been the language coach. Many Poles have been upset that their language doesn’t ring true.

To round out the movie’s finer points, many thought THE SHRINE’s soundtrack was fabulous enough to warrant a Grammy nomination. Then again, noted composer Ryan Shore was the man behind the music. You can hear his work in many a film, including notable horrors, such as OFFSPRING (2009), CABIN FEVER 2: SPRING FEVER (2009), and JACK BROOKS: MONSTER SLAYER (Canada, 2007). The latter is also Knautz’s previous feature.

This movie has one distinct element that proves to be extremely refreshing, but to share it would ruin far too much. Instead, forget the ratings and the tumult from the naysayers and rent the damn thing. You might just find it worthwhile – just don’t bail on it.

Check out Knautz’s phenomenal short STILL LIFE (2006) on YouTube:

3.5 out of 5 stars

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