Mike Davis and the good folks over at The Lovecraft Ezine have several Good And Useful lists. One is Mike’s list of Lovecraftian Movies, most of which I’ve giddily made my way through. Recently he also posted a list of Lovecraftian Movies available on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
That’s how I stumbled across The Shrine which I’d never heard of until then. Since Lovecraft Ezine is one of my go-to blogs, I reckoned The Shrine was worth a try.
For the most part it was. As a frame of reference, think The Village meets Blair Witch Project meets The Fog meets Dagon meets Night Of The Demon meets just a little Evil Dead. Hell let’s thrown in a dash of Black Sunday while we’re at it. It’s quite a mix and makes a good bit of The Shrine seem very familiar.
But this familiarity works to the film’s advantage by becoming a diversionary tactic. We may have our suspicions about where the plot is headed, but the resolution still comes as a surprise. Not on an M. Night Sixth Sense level, but a nicely handled, satisfying little twist nonetheless.
Carmen, a reporter, wants to look into the disappearance of a number of tourists from a specific place in Poland over the last 50 years. Her editor vetoes it. She decides to go on her own and convinces her younger, more inexperienced colleague, Sarah (Meghan Heffern), to come with her. She also convinces her boyfriend, Marcus (Aaron Ashmore), but fails to mention the undertaking has neither the support nor knowledge of her editor.
Unlike the plot familiarity, Carmen doesn’t work that well as the main character. True, Cindy Sampson does a respectable job with the role. There’s just a little too much Blair Witch-ness going on. To be fair, there have been dumbasses long before Blair Witch Project who have waved off the protestations and warnings of the group.
Gotta satisfy their own curiosity, establish dominance, assert authority, demonstrate bravery, prove themselves, prove it’s all hooey, get that story, yada yada yada. It always ends in disaster, like in Evil Dead. And American Werewolf In London. And The Cube, The Ruins, The Descent, etcetera.
But Blair Witch Project added some new, annoying qualities to this dumbass type. The de facto leader of Blair Witch Project is a pushy, controlling, belligerent megalomaniac. This new style of “leader,” male and female, will show up in dozens of remote locations to come, hijacking their groups to at least partial destruction. Carmen is no exception.
Despite Carmen’s detestability, The Shrine is imminently watchable. Once our plucky trio finds the remote village in question, they quickly start asking the wrong questions and running afoul of the residents. In particular, the young, shirtless butcher accosts them, knife in hand, and tells them, “There is nothing for you here.”
They also notice two things. First, the locals seem suspiciously over-worshipful when it comes to the ominously robed clergy of the village church. Second, there’s a section of the nearby forest that’s always shrouded in fog which can be seen hovering in (dare I say?) eldritch fashion (yes, I dare) above the trees.
What’s in the fog? What happens if you go see for yourself? Damn good questions.
I’m not gonna tell you, but I will say that the answers prove most Lovecraftian. They also prove irresistible to Carmen. Unfazed by the warning, she insists on going back, leading to the age-old question: why don’t people listen to the locals? Ever?
Some time when you’re bored, try this. Pose a horror movie scenario to your friends and ask what they’d do. I’ve actually asked people about this in connection with several movies (for real, I do this).
Here goes. You travel with two friends to a remote Polish village from which a number of people have disappeared. You see a strange church and its strange priests as well as a section of forest shrouded in permanent fog. You are told in a hostile manner to leave. You pretend to leave only to double back and investigate and come to said impenetrable looking fog bank in the forest. Do you go into the fog?
If you’ve seen The Fog, the answer is, “Oh hell no!” If you’ve seen Hostel, you might not set foot anywhere in what was once the Eastern Bloc. However, my favorite answer so far is, “What do you mean, ‘pretend to leave?'”
Okay so it turns out that people who wander into this village really do on occasion end up dead. It also turns out that they invariably go to see what was in the fog then end up being killed in what looks like a ritualistic sacrifice.
But looks can be…well you know.