Wednesday, February 09, 2011

VFF '11: The Shrine: a Tribute to Film Noir

By Ed Sum

Every once in a blue moon comes a nicely made film that sets the mood from the get-go. The Shrine succeeds in where many others have failed. From the very first few frames to the end, this movie is a product of visual contrasts and cosmic terror. Here, the production team knew exactly what they’re borrowing from—the film noir stylings of yesteryear—and they toss in enough references of grandiose design to even make H.P. Lovecraft give his nod of approval.

Even before the terror slowly begins, there is finally a film that spends time establishing the main characters. Even when the shots don't require it, what audiences are presented with are beautiful pieces of cinematography with plenty of hidden meaning for those in the know. Even the colours seem to change. Mid-film, the product looked like it went through a desaturation filter. Perhaps that’s done to reveal a world filled with dreams and nightmares.

The Shrine sends three reluctant journalists—Marcus (Aaron Ashmore), a photographer; Carmen (Cindy Sampson), the journalist, and Sara (Meghan Heffern), her aide—into another world. They travel to a sleepy rural village in Poland, Alvaina, trying to find out what happened to a young backpacker. He last visited this village before being declared missing. This mystery is what the staff from Decipher Monthly is trying to figure out.

But there’s a cultural barrier that prevents Carmen and her crew from learning the truth. No one in the group can’t speak or understand the language.

Neither can the audience. One would almost expect to find subtitles to go along with this film. Instead, there isn’t any and this is where the fun begins. To let viewers in on what’s going on would ruin the punch line. This brilliant move by the production team is a step in the right direction of getting audiences engaged with the product.

In the grand tradition of saying too much knowledge leads to sorrow, sometimes it also means that knowing too much can reveal that not everything learned (about life, the universe, and what lives next-door) is inherently good.

While parts of the film takes a small tailspin into looking like something out of an Exorcist sequel with these contrasting motifs and a quest to conquer evil, what happens is literally plague-ridden with clich├ęs taken out of many a horror film. At least they’re done with great effect and to have everything framed within the still of the night helps add to the drama.

As a Canadian production, this film has plenty of interesting nuances to like. And with actors like Ashmore (The Thaw) and Sampson being no strangers to the genre, this product can be seen as a labour of love. Both worked in Canadian productions like "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" and "Supernatural".

Interestingly enough, Heffren appeared in the remake of John Carpenter’s The Fog, and director Jon Knautz is better known for his directorial work in Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer. This product is currently touring the film festival market, and hopefully, sooner than later, it’ll see a wider release before arriving on DVD.

More information can be found online at The Shrine homepage:

Horror films mentioned in this review are listed below at Amazon:

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