Blu-ray Review: THE SHRINE
That difficult second feature from Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer director Jon Knautz slips quietly onto home video here in the UK, nearly a year after screening at Glasgow Frightfest. Marking a shift in tone, The Shrine leads us into some extremely familiar territory with a rather matter-of-fact take on occult horror. After a remarkably pedestrian first half, Knautz just about claws it back with a solidly gripping final act that may even chuck you the odd surprise for your efforts.
An irritatingly ambitious journalist (Cindy Sampson) investigates a backpacker gone missing in Poland (yep, it's those pesky Eastern Europeans again), with naïve intern (Meghan Heffern) in tow. A narked, soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend (Aaron Ashmore) provides some muscle by tagging along too. Upon arrival in the remote rural village of Alvaina, said group encounter creepy, unwelcoming, possibly savage locals who are, of course, clearly hiding something. So far, so yawn-inducing. Slaughter and torture ahead, right? Stick with it though, because things get more interesting when they come across a gothic-looking statue lurking in a bizarre type of forest dwelling perma-mist.
Knautz plays the whole thing very straight indeed and, to his credit, despite the perfunctory nature of much that transpires, it's easy to get along with. Whilst there's little at stake emotionally, there is fun to be had, and the various plot developments go someway to addressing the 'psycho locals' cliché - really, what is it with Americans and Eastern Europe? Throw in some great practical effects work and a nasty, queasy ritual at the centre of events and it just about works. Sure, some scenes have an air of cheapness about them, not helped I suspect by the super-crisp blu-ray transfer, and the mist effects themselves look rather odd. Clearly more than a little familiar with the genre, Knautz intentionally or not references all manner of classic fare, mercifully with more reverence than irony.
Unlikely to linger on your mind, The Shrine is assured and diverting enough to be worth the swift 80 minutes runtime. Just steer clear if you're easily offended by non-ironic stereotypes.
The Blu-ray disc
Bare bones stuff here, by which I mean nothing at all in the way of extras. The picture and sound are great, though perversely as mentioned above it may have benefited from a slightly less sharp image. I haven't seen the DVD but all things considered it's probably the one to plump for.
The Shrine (cert. 15) will be released on DVD (£12.99) and Blu-ray (£tbc) by Arrow Films on 27th February 2012.