There are a lot of horror films about cults, and with good reason.
We’re afraid of what we don’t understand, and it’s hard to understand why a group of otherwise normal people would choose to live their lives by radical beliefs that defy all reason.
There’s always the delicious mystery that comes along with figuring out what a fictional cult is all about, too. However, as with every well-used horror trope, some cult-based yarns deliver while others fall sadly flat.
How does 2010’s “The Shrine” measure up?
The Canadian horror movie, directed by Jon Knautz, stars Aaron Ashmore (“Killjoy”), Cindy Sampson and Meghan Heffern. It also features a Grammy Award-nominated score by the incredible Ryan Shore. Knautz co-wrote the screenplay alongside Brendan Moore as well.
“The Shrine” follows the travels of a photographer and two female journalists who arrive in Europe to get to the bottom of a string of odd disappearances. However, it’s not long before they, too, find themselves in the thick of a struggle they never anticipated and could not possibly have prepared for.
“The Shrine” is Knautz’s second feature (following the fun and fresh “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer”). However, it’s also his first bona fide horror film, and it shows in some ways.
Like most cult horror movies, this one falls back on a lot of clichés and it does so all at once. We have a group of unwitting travelers in a classic “fish out of water” scenario. We also have strange locals that are rude and hostile for no discernible reason (when they’re not making it clear that they know so much more than they’re letting on, of course).
Long-time horror lovers may feel they’ve seen all this before… but you’ll definitely want to give this film the benefit of the doubt.
FAST FACT: “The Shrine” director Jon Knautz says he prefers practical effects over CGI, when possible. That’s particularly true for creature features, he adds.
There’s really a lot about “The Shrine” that’s fresh and unexpected. For instance, the kill scenes in this are off the chain, including a signature sequence with a sledgehammer that will make you sit up and take notice.
Knautz also proves he really knows his stuff with impeccable sound design, a few jump scares that feels just right, a solid balance between CGI and non-digital effects and a sparkling finish that doesn’t disappoint.
This is a film that feels the way you expect a good horror film to feel and it leaves you eager to see more of Knautz’s work for sure.
“The Shrine” isn’t a big budget film by any means, but it’s cleverly executed enough that you never really notice. It’s well-written and manages to keep you guessing the whole way through.
It’s far from the only horror movie about a weird cult that chooses to feed the audience its actual answers just a little bit at a time, but it does it so well, you forget you’ve seen it done similarly before.
Knautz also makes smart creative choices like choosing not to subtitle the Polish the villagers speak, leaving viewers to intuit for themselves via body language and unspoken signals what’s actually being said.
Overall, this is the type of film a lot of people might expect to be disappointed by. However, it actually delivers on the promises made by the lush kill scenes, haunting soundtrack, and interesting design choices. Underneath it all, “The Shrine” tells an actual story that keeps you guessing and doesn’t disappoint.