Director: Padraig Reynolds
Seen via: Netflix InstantRating: 4.5 / 10
This post is part of Ryne Barber's Viewer Vomit, hosted on his blog The Moon is a Dead World. Go check it out and read what some other bloggers have to say about Rites of Spring. Thanks to Ryne for hosting and giving me a reason to cross this film off my watchlist!
Slasher films seems to be in a transition phase - struggling to stay relevant in the face of tons of cookie-cutter releases and trying to escape a history that has roughly ten bombs for each success. Last year's Cabin in the Woods was almost a call to arms for horror filmmakers. Splaying the subgenre wide open and retconning essentially every slasher you've ever seen, it attempted to highlight what made the subgenre lovable while simultaneously demanding better. So is this a potential turning point that could take us beyond throwbacks, remakes, and rehashes? What might the next generation of slasher look like? One strategy is to blend in aspects of other genres, which is exactly what Rites of Spring attempts to do. You might guess from the poster (which I really like, by the way) that it's some sort of pastoral horror, but it's really more a blend of crime/suspense and slasher.
Rites of Spring initially follows two very different plot lines, jumping frequently back and forth. One focuses on a pair of young women who are abducted by a strange old man while out on the town drowning their job-related sorrows. The other centers around a nice guy named Ben who's been roped into a kidnapping scheme as a last-ditch effort to pay off a debt. The abduction plot gets very strange very fast. The two girls are taken to an isolated farmhouse and subjected to an assortment of violent rituals. The other story remains grounded in the real world, as Ben is persuaded against his better judgment to kidnap the young daughter of his boss for ransom.
Of the two stories, the kidnapping plot was the one that ended up working for me. AJ Bowen does a great job as Ben and becomes sympathetic in a role where he ends up participating in some pretty despicable events. There are a few twists along the way to keep things interesting, even though it's pretty clear from the start that the crime is not going to end well. The other story, well - it never really takes off. The weird rituals continue, the girls attempt to escape, and it eventually becomes clear that the old kidnapper is using them to summon... something.
It's a mummy. Or maybe a scarecrow? I'm not entirely sure what this monster is. (IMDB tells me his name is Wormface.) Mostly, it just looks like a guy running around wearing a mask. A big problem with the Wormface storyline is that there's too little to the underlying mythology. We get tidbits now and then suggesting this is some sort of ancient pagan blood sacrifice, but nothing establishes the rules or the motivation for the monster. The longer this segment runs, the more hollow it feels, especially once Wormface breaks free and starts dutifully offing the characters one by one.
When the two storylines eventually meet, it's more of a collision than a convergence. I was hoping for a meaningful connection between the two plots, but it literally boils down to the fact that the main characters from each portion used to work for the same company. So what?! The previous plot lines disintegrate as all characters become fodder for Wormface. The ending comes far too abruptly and leaves several loose plot threads hanging.
Despite the eventual collapse of both stories, there are a few things Rites of Spring does well. Setting the climax inside an abandoned elementary school was a great decision. The atmosphere is foreboding and lends credibility to the film even when the bottom falls out from underneath the plot. The cinematography is usually clean and polished, despite a little bit of camera shakiness. It's a shame that it doesn't have solid writing to back it up. In the end, all the prettiness in the world can't un-spaghettify your plot.
So is this indicative of a new direction for the slasher? Can we expect more slasher mash-ups in the future? I'm not intrinsically opposed to the idea. The way in which Rites of Spring gets it wrong is that it fails to draw on the strengths of both its genres. While the crime story is well done, the slasher portion is so derivative and empty that I was disappointed when it ended up being the storyline that dominated the ending. I'd like to see the parts of the slasher that I like the most (such as slowly building suspense and a solid mythology for the villain) used more effectively.
However much I've just trashed this film, I'd prefer its willingness to try something new to another thoughtless remake or something that's tongue in cheek or doesn't even care. Rites of Spring isn't devoid of entertainment, it just doesn't have the ability to back up its ambition.