Directed and co-written by Joe Knautz, the 2010 Polish themed horror film with a twist, The Shrine which is his second feature length film, tells the story of a journalist who is pursuing what she believes to be the next big story. Starring Aaron Ashmore (Killjoys, Warehouse 13), Cindy Sampson (Swamp Devil, The Last Kiss) and Meghan Heffern (Chloe, What If) it could be seen as a message to those who aspire to greatness, “Be careful of what you wish for” or “Don’t you think the bee story would have been safer?”
Carmen (Sampson) is a junior journalist who wrote an expose that caused a lot of problems for her publication. Her punishment is to be given mediocre and banal stories to cover. Somewhat ironically, given the mysterious virus that is killing off honeybees in the real world, she is told to investigate and write about two separate bee keepers whose bees have suddenly and mysteriously died. Finding the prospect of talking to a couple of “bee farmers” fairly dull, she tosses the assignment in the bin.
The fledgling reporter has been following her own leads and she has discovered a possible link between a local lad who has gone missing from Poland. Like others before him, the boy’s luggage showed up in an airport miles from his last known destination, a small town in Poland, and Carmen talks her boyfriend Marcus (Ashmore) and her intern Sara (Heffern) into going to the village and learning what really happened to the missing local man.
The three fly to the area and begin their investigation. They find a spot in the woods that the backpacker described in his last diary entry. A place where smoke or fog hangs in one spot. After being chased out of the small town by the locals, Carmen, Sara and Marcus double back and check out the smoke filled copse.
Sara goes into the fog while Marcus and Carmen argue. She disappears and Carmen goes in after her intern. While enveloped by the dense fog, she finds a statue of a large snarling creature clutching a heart in one clawed hand. She takes a picture and as she moves to get another shot, the statues head followers her.
This is an interesting film. Starting off as more a mystery than horror, it has all the signposts of turning into another Hostel or something very similar. However once the protagonists reach Poland, it ceases to be a mystery and goes slowly and effectively into a sort of quasi-religious horror film.
The filmmakers chose to keep subtitles off the screen when the local villagers are talking each other and the visiting Americans in Polish, although they think the reporters are British. “English?,” asks one man, “Go back to England, English, nothing for you here.” The lack of subtitles keeps the viewer in the same space as the three young American’s who cannot speak the language.
The Shrine is not too dissimilar to Ashmore’s twin brother Shawn’s horror outing in The Ruins two years earlier, it looks like the hostile townies are trying to keep the outsiders out, at first, and later to keep them there…permanently.
The twist at the ending is not earth shattering but impressive enough and although the film does end rather abruptly, but not too ambiguously, this works. The combination of no subtitles and the short chopped off ending puts the audience firmly in the shell shocked shoes of Aaron Ashmore’s character. Quite an entertaining horror film that scores a full 3.5 out of 5 and is well worth a look. True horror fans will enjoy this little gem. Steaming on Netflix at the moment.