The Shrine (2010) review

Director: Jon Knautz

Starring: Cindy Sampson, Aaron Ashmore, Meghan Heffern

“There is no retribution.” (Carmen, The Shrine)

Top tip for any budding filmmakers out there – if you’re going to set a film in a foreign location, make sure you read up on it first. Otherwise you’ll end up like The Shrine, a film set in the fictional Polish village of Alvania. That’s Poland, as in the country that doesn’t use the letter V in its language. That said, cultural inaccuracies aside, The Shrine is a half-decent horror that starts slow but ultimately ends well.

It tells the story of Carmen, a journalist who’s investigating claims that some tourists are travelling to Europe and going missing, only for their bodies and luggage to turn up in separate European countries. Carmen uses one of the missing persons’ journal to discover that they were last seen in Alvania, so she heads there with her photographer boyfriend and Sara, her intern.

I wonder if you'd be offended watching this film if you were Polish

When they get there they find an odd, dense fog in one section of forest, inside which sits an evil-looking statue. After entering the fog and seeing some weird shit, Carmen and Sara decide it’s time to leave but before the trio can get out of Alvania they’re captured by the locals, who it turns out don’t take too kindly to people who stand in their creepy fog.

To say too much more about The Shrine would be spoiling it, so I won’t. One thing I will say though is that it takes a pretty long time to get going. Once the three are captured things pick up a little and a couple of particularly nasty, gory scenes set the tone (tip – if you’re squeamish about sharp things slicing your heels or poking your eyes, it might be best to look away). 

The church's custom-made sparklers went down a treat on Bonfire Night

As the film progresses it seems more and more likely that The Shrine is just going to be a rip-off of Hostel, what with its remote Eastern European location, its gory murders and its group of townsfolk who all seem to be in on some sort of plot to kill tourists. And then, with fifteen minutes to go, the film takes a clever twist that makes you question whether the locals were so evil after all, and whether they maybe just knew something we didn’t.

It also gets a little silly at the end, with daft Exorcist-style shenanigans and certain people transforming into demonic mutant things. It’s not that scary, mind you, unless you’re scared of the vampire make-up in Buffy and Angel – it’s remarkably similar to that.

"GAAAAAH THAT TOMATO SAUCE WAS WELL PAST ITS BEST BEFORE DATE"

Despite all this, The Shrine is fairly standard stuff for the most part. It does try to make things interesting by having the dialogue almost completely in Polish with no subtitles for the last 45 minutes or so, though while this was no doubt intended to make the viewer feel just as perplexed as to what’s going on as the protagonists do it does eventually get a little frustrating (and from what I gather the Polish dialogue isn’t even that accurate anyway).

Still, it’s by no means a terrible film and while I wouldn’t necessarily demand you track it down you should still give it a go if you get the chance, if only because it’s well shot, is suitably moody and has a decent score which, amazingly, was recently nominated for a Grammy for some reason.

WHERE CAN I SEE IT?
The Shrine is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK thanks to the wonderful people at Arrow Video. You can get the DVD here and the Blu-ray here. Unfortunately, despite being an Arrow title, it doesn’t have a single extra feature. If you’re using the Netflix DNS trick to get the US library you can find it there too.

If you enjoyed this review and would like to read more, here’s a complete list of reviews on That Was A Bit Mental.

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