Director – Jon Knautz, Screenplay – Jon Knautz, Trevor Matthews & Brendan Moore, Producer – J. Michael Dawson, Photography – James Griffith, Music – Ryan Shore, Visual Effects – Invisible Pictures (Supervisor – Noel Hooper), Special Effects – Max MacDonald & Melinda Ramsay, Creature Effects – Form & Dynamics (Supervisor – David Scott), Production Design – Craig Harris. Production Company – Brookstreet Pictures.
Aaron Ashmore (Marcus), Cindy Sampson (Carmen Burke), Meghan Heffern (Sara Tattersall), Trevor Matthews (Henryk), Julia Debowska (Lidia), Vieslav Krystyan (Arkadiusz), Laura DeCateret (Laura Taylor), Monica Bugajski (Emilia), Stefen Hayes (Aleks), Connor Stanhope (Dariusz), Phillip Craig (Dale)
Carmen Burke, a journalist for DCypher Magazine, becomes obsessed with the disappearances of several tourists in Eastern Europe where in each case their luggage turns up afterwards in a different city. However, her editor has no interest in publishing the story. After the latest victim Eric Taylor goes missing in Poland and his luggage reappears in Prague, Carmen and her junior associate Sara Tattersall decide to go AWOL to investigate. Carmen persuades her boyfriend Marcus to come along as photographer as a way to patch up their strained relationship. They travel to the remote village of Alvania in Poland, the last location mentioned in Eric’s diary. Once there though, the locals drive them away. Carmen insists on returning to investigate a mysterious stationary fog bank in the nearby forest and both she and Sara become lost inside it. Afterwards, they are pursued by the locals who imprison them with the intention of sacrificing them in a ceremony where a metal mask is hammered over their faces.
This Canadian-made horror film is a typical piece of genre filler material. It was the second film from Canadian-American director Jon Knautz who had previously enjoyed modest acclaim with the horror comedy Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer (2007) and subsequently went onto Goddess of Love (2015), The Cleaning Lady (2018) and to co-direct Girlhouse (2014).
The Shrine is utterly generic in every respect. Much of the film has been construed in terms of a constant series of pop-up scares, which prove more cliched and irritating than they ever do scary. Things make no real sense on any narrative level – bodies of tourists go missing and the bodies and luggage turn up in different countries; the girls encounter a demon statue in a perpetual, never-moving fog bank; people are killed by locals in a ceremony that for some reason requires a metal mask with spikes on the inside to be hammered over their faces; there are a great many random hallucinations; the girls appear to have returned from the fog bank undergoing some type of infection and/or possible mutation. None of these scenes are directed with any originality or enervation. Maybe the one scene that comes the closest towards generating some atmosphere is the one with Cindy Sampson lost in the fog – even then the scenes encountering the demon statue are far too closely modelled on the prologue for The Exorcist (1973) with Max Von Sydow encountering the statue of Pazuzu in the desert.
The last fifteen minutes of The Shrine collapse into utterly cliche-ridden B-movie possession and exorcism scenes as a bunch of clerics circle around chanting Latin liturgy armed with crucifixes and holy water as the demon figures snarl and use unnatural strength to throw people around. These scenes are yawn inducing to the extent to which they are parroting every other film in this particular genre niche. Surprisingly, all of this is rationalised in an ending that [PLOT SPOILERS] explains that there is a demonic influence inside the fog bank and that the villagers were in fact trying to exorcise and kill those who had become possessed after walking into the fog. On the other hand, this still fails to explain why the bodies of those who became possessed are turning up in different European cities and their luggage in another city.
The script also suffers from some major credibility flaws. There was a highly amusing posting on the IMDB User Comments section from someone who lives in Poland disparaging the film for regarding the locals as backwards peasants and, most amusingly, for the idea of a village called Alvania when the letter V does not exist in Polish. Moreover, the film has not even been filmed in Poland but in rural Ontario.
To me as a former reporter, the scenes with Cindy Sampson as a journalist seem equally absurd. A journalist who has tenure at a magazine going off AWOL to follow a story halfway around the world and taking a junior apprentice with them is not something that journalists do – at least, if they have any interest in retaining their jobs. Journalists go off following leads all the time but leaving the country – and specifically when the editor has stated that they are not interested in the story – seems utterly hare-brained. For instance, if the editor is not interested in the story then what is the point of wasting so much time and travel expense pursuing a story that nobody is going to publish?