Director Padraig Reynolds’ new horror film Rites of Spring, released under the IFC Midnight banner, is a gruesome 80 minutes to endure. There’s enough of a story and characters to make the movie interesting, but it’s so foreboding that it can prove tiresome. Take away some of the cheap thrills and Rites of Spring is just another monster movie similar to Halloween or Friday the 13th. The equation has been tested time and time again, and Reynolds embraces the genre quite effectively.
There are two story lines simultaneously unraveling. One involves a kidnapping and ransom scheme (motives not entirely clear). The other involves two women abducted by a sadistic man (Marco St. John) who readies them for a “spring sacrifice” to a creature that lives in the cornfield (motives not entirely clear). It would have been nice if the two stories connected in some clever way, but they don’t. The ransom scheme literally runs right into the creature feature, and the two are molded together.
Everything is dripping of mayhem and bloodshed, which may entice horror fans, but will undoubtedly test the patience (and stomach) of the average moviegoer. Plus, the script is so lacking in details that these early scenes have no context. Having outlying questions in a horror movie is expected, but the anticipation deserves some type of payoff.
The disparate story lines don’t add much to the overall movie when they come together. When a character becomes annoying or frivolous, another character simply dispatches them with a gun (in the human’s case) or a wicked-looking garden tool (in the creature’s case). This unending bloodbath means very few of the actors have enough time to leave a lasting impression.
Rachel (Anessa Ramsey) is the closest thing to a main character, and she fills the role well. Through Rachel’s eyes we are able to track the story, follow the creature and hope for a good ending. Ramsey may turn into a new scream queen after this role. She whimpers, cries and screams her way into our collective memory. It’s only human to root for her survival, even if the story is less than engaging.
The scares are well-earned throughout the film. The final third of Rites of Spring pulls heavily from the slasher-film mythos. There’s a giant burly creature chasing scared, soon-to-be victims, always staying a few steps behind them. Even though the action takes place in the middle of a cornfield, the monster stays close to this cast of characters. All the usual rules are broken: Don’t look back. Don’t catch your breath. Don’t pull up to an abandoned gas station looking for help. Don’t assume anyone is dead.
Rites of Spring is far better than most horror movies nowadays. The fact that it still fails to invigorate the audience has more to do with its inability to say something more profound than just scares and blood. Why tell this story in the first place? What does it all mean? Who is this guy? What is the rite of spring? Don’t stop to look for answers because there’s a burly man lumbering right behind you.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Rites of Spring
Written and directed by Padraig Reynolds
Starring Skylar Burke, Anessa Ramsey, Katherine Randolph, Marco St. John, AJ Bowen and Hannah Bryan
Running time: 80 minutes