** Contains Spoilers **
I’ve got a great idea for a movie. A group of Europeans travel to America on holiday or with work. After seeing the sights/taking lots of drugs they fall foul of the locals, who at first appear friendly and eager to help but who are in fact the very definition of evil. The Europeans spend an hour being tortured/anally brutalised by a parade of overweight, sexually-sadistic rednecks (which all Americans are, without exception), before one of them effects an implausible escape and flees the country, vowing never to return.
In case you haven’t guessed, we’re in HOSTEL territory again. Instead of Slovakia, we find ourselves in Poland, where everyone lives in villages, dresses like it’s the 1900’s and hides a sinister secret, not to be spoken of with outsiders. Cindy Sampson is Carmen, an ambitious journalist who is being sidelined at her paper. In need of a juicy story to get her career back on track, she decides to investigate the disappearances of a string of backpackers, all of whom have vanished without trace trekking across Europe. She identifies a village in Poland as a good place to start and jets off with fawning assistant Sara and on-again-off-again boyfriend/photographer Marcus (Aaron Ashmore, also known as Smallville’s Jimmy Olsen, another adventurous photojournalist).
What they find in the village is straight out of an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Menacing, unfriendly locals, a cute little girl who speaks broken English with an unconvincing generic European accent, and a mysterious solid fogbank that just hangs there, inviting exploration. Explore they do, which is when it starts to get good. The two women encounter a statue in the gloom, which, much like DOCTOR WHO’s terrifying weeping angels, seems to move when they’re not looking. Suitably unnerved they flee the fog, and emerge to a very unfriendly reception from the locals, who proceed to incarcerate, torture and kill them.
To be fair, THE SHRINE isn’t nearly as xenophobic as HOSTEL. Everything is explained by the end, and in a way the swarthy, superstitious villagers become the heroes. After a slow first half, which serves to build atmosphere but also drags, it explodes into action. Carmen is possessed by whatever unspeakable entity dwells in the statue, and is transformed into a hissing, supernaturally-empowered cross between the EVIL DEAD witches and Linda Blair in THE EXORCIST. A joyfully bloody battle ensues.
THE SHRINE is good old-fashioned horror – a simple premise leading into a slow build-up, culminating in a monster-filled bloodbath. It’s also refreshingly non- judgemental. Granted, the villagers are superstitious peasants just this side of the Dark Ages, but at least they’re the good guys, protecting the world from an ancient evil. Eli Roth take note.