Ah springtime! Is there a better season than spring? Aside from summer I mean. Maybe, maybe not, but when it comes to springtime in horror films there’s one constant.
The harvest needs to be watered with the blood of human sacrifice.
The harvest in question can be literal or more of a metaphorical inference to the season’s life-giving nature. Children of the Corn, The Wicker Man and even Jeepers Creepers all fall into this category, as does today’s horror film. Of the three examples Rites of Spring most resembles the last as it features a semi-annual slaughter as someone, or some thing, comes out of hiding to kill on the first day of spring. It’s an improvement over Jeepers Creepers in that it’s not directed by a convicted pedophile, but in almost every other regard unfortunately it’s a disappointment.
Nine bodies hit the floor onscreen due to gun shot wounds to the head, chest and back, as well as beheadings and stabbings by way of a scythe.
There’s a menacing old man who mutters about liking his women clean, but the real creepiness comes from hints and peeks at something in the basement. Blood flows freely once the thing gets out, but there’s not a lot in the way of gore effects.
We get some full frontal female nudity of a young woman who under most circumstances would make for a sexy time, but unfortunately she’s been strung up by her wrists and had a cow’s head placed over her own like a helmet. So, yeah. Not very sexy. On the plus side there’s a brief shot of a bad girl in her bra and jeans.
Kidnapping is a crime punishable by death.
“Are you clean?”
Rachel and her friend Jennifer are commiserating together in a bar over the fact that Rachel’s actions may have gotten a co-worker fired. She swallows her guilt with the help of a beer, and the two head out to their car to go home. Unfortunately for them a man in a raincoat is waiting, but instead of flashing his goods he knocks them out and takes them home to his farm. The two are bound, one is stripped and washed, and soon the basement door opens revealing a humanoid being partially wrapped in cloth and wielding a large blade.
Across town a trio of criminals enter a large home intent on kidnapping the couple’s child, and while they succeed they also leave the girl’s mother dying in her husband’s arms. With the little girl (and her nanny) in tow, the the three head out to an abandoned warehouse to await their ransom payout. Before they can take off with their loot Rachel comes busting in the door with her mysterious pursuer hot on her heels.
The crossbreeding of two genre threads is the film’s strongest move as the violent and gritty criminal element is a rare but enjoyable mix with a bloodthirsty supernatural villain. Sadly the two elements fail to generate any real heat here due to a weak setup on the horror side in particular. The creature beneath the floorboards is a poorly concocted villain whose true purpose is never revealed (although supposedly that information is forthcoming in a sequel) and whose appearance is more confusing and laughable than terrifying.
His head is wrapped like a mummy, but he’s wearing a jacket, pants and black Doc Martens. His behavior is equally schizophrenic as runs, hides and toys with people like a serial killer but very unlike a supernaturally divined monster. The brief glimpses we get of the face behind the wraps teases a very cool creation, but we never get a satisfactory reveal.
Writer/director Padraig Reynolds has gathered an okay cast for his film, and while none of them stand out none of them embarrass themselves either. Reynolds also manages a handful of suitably creepy shots before his monster is let loose so he seems to have a fairly good eye for suspense scenes, but with any luck he’ll leave his follow-up to a different writer.
A new screenwriter might also help with the film’s other big issue. Our “heroes” continuously and repeatedly let pass opportunities to kill the kidnappers, the psycho old man and the bloodthirsty zombie vet. Multiple times this happens, and each time the villain supposedly left for dead pops up a few minutes later to wreak more havoc. It’s tiring to watch.
It can’t be a good thing when Springtime With Hitler is a more frightening proposal than your springtime-set horror film. Rites of Spring is not a good thing either.
Rites of Spring will be available in theaters and available nationwide on IFC Midnight Cable VOD and Digital Outlets (SundanceNOW, iTunes, Amazon Streaming, XBOX Zune, Playstation Unlimited) starting July 27, 2012