Almost four years ago now, Canadian director Jon Knautz burst onto the scene with his first feature Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer. I enjoyed it very much, so I was happy to get the chance to see his sophomore effort The Shrine.
While investigating the disappearances of several backpackers from a village in Eastern Europe, three journalists quickly realize they may be the next to go missing.
I thought The Shrine was a solid flick. I really have to applaud Knautz for his shift in tone. It would have been very easy for him to follow up Jack Brooks with another horror comedy, but The Shrine was as straight-up as they come. That is a far more difficult thing to pull off and he excelled at it. I liked the story for the most part. It was simple, yet somehow seemed fresh and though it started off a little clunky, I really liked where it ended up going. Knautz does a lot of things right here, so even perplexing flourishes like a good chunk of dialogue being spoken in un-subtitled Polish made sense in context. The gore in The Shrine was pretty sparce, but when it did hit, it was substantial and the tight script also allowed for some well designed set pieces.
I’m not sure I was entirely sold on the relationship between the two leads (Cindy Sampson & Aaron Ashmore) but it wasn’t really an issue, as Sampson especially had far more to do in the last act. I wonder if the Ashmore brothers have some sort of contest going on with their duelling horror roles. When Shawn Ashmore appeared in 2008’s The Ruins, Aaron followed a year later with The Thaw. Perhaps The Shrine was Aaron’s response to his brother’s turn in Adam Green’s Frozen. Nothing like a little sibling rivalry to spice things up, right? Also of note is the barely recognizable Trevor Matthews – Jack Brooks himself – appears as one of the unfriendly locals.
Knautz should be very proud of The Shrine. I know the lack of big name stars may have caused larger distributors to overlook this film, but I think it deserves the chance to be seen by more people.