Review: Rites of Spring (2011)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #759

Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 22, 2011
Sub-Genre: Survival Horror/Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 80 minutes
Director: Padraig Reynolds
Producers: Wes Benton, John Norris, E. Thompson
Screenplay: Padraig Reynolds
Special Effects: ‘Puppet’ Chris Brown
Cinematography: Carl Herse
Score: Holly Amber Church
Editing: Aaron Peak
Studios: Red Planet Entertainment, White Rock Lake Productions, Vigilante Entertainment
Distributor: IFC Films
Stars: A. J. Bowen, Anessa Ramsey, Sonny Marinelli, Katherine Randolph, James Bartz, Shanna Forrestall, Hannah Bryan, Skylar Burke, Marco St. John, Andrew Breland, Sarah Pachelli, Jeff Nations

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Frank Sinatra “Spring Is Here”

[2] The Band King “Harvest (Has Surely Come)”

[3] Metallica “Harvester of Sorrow”

I have tremendous respect for any first-time filmmaker who manages to translate their vision from page to screen. It’s no minor feat and there are no cast-iron guarantees that your movie will ever make it to market once completed. Things were so much different back in the eighties when there wasn’t such a wealth of content vying for the public’s attention. Nowadays, new horror films are a dime a dozen and, while I do my darnedest to keep abreast of developments in the genre I adore, even I struggle to keep up. As a result, certain movies fly beneath my radar and I happen across them years later, completely by chance. One such unknown quantity is the debut feature from Padraig Reynolds entitled Rites of Spring.

In truth, when I discovered this in my local DVD store, my primary impulse was to skip right past it. The UK sleeve artwork (which I have opted against showcasing here) did little to rouse the interest and, had I not spotted the name A.J. Bowen on the credits, then I likely wouldn’t have provided it a second glance. However, having been hugely impressed by his turns in The Signal, The House of The Devil, A Horrible Way To Die and You’re Next, his name being attached single-handedly secured my purchase. I still had nary a clue as to what kind of film I’d picked up as the synopsis suggests a crime thriller/supernatural suspense movie and offers scant indication of which of the two it leans towards. Imagine my surprise then when it turned out to be essentially a slasher movie, albeit one happy to mislead its audience for the opening half hour.

Straight out of the gate we are introduced to two separate storylines. One involves Rachel (Anessa Ramsey) and her friend Alyssa (Hannah Bryan), who are snatched from the parking lot of a local bar by a man known as The Stranger (Marco St. John) and whisked away to a secluded farmhouse in the middle of nowhere and strung up side by side, pending further humiliation.

While their captor is far from forthcoming with details, it soon becomes clear that they are being held against their will with the purpose of some kind of ritualistic sacrifice. Needless to say, neither are exactly thrilled to be in attendance and waste no time voicing their concerns but it appears utterly fruitless as the farmer plans to present them to a Pagan god named Karmanor, in exchange for a rich harvest.

Meanwhile, in seemingly unrelated news, Ben (Bowen) and his wife Amy (Katherine Randolph) are about to indulge in a spot of kidnapping themselves. Having fallen on hard times, their plan is to relieve a wealthy businessman (and Ben’s ex-employer) of his 13-year-old daughter and cash-in on the $2m ransom. Ben’s younger brother Tommy (Andrew Breland) is also implicated, while his deeply shady acquaintance Paul (Sonny Marinelli) is the one calling all the shots.

The smash and grab goes reasonably to plan and the conspirators make away with their target, as well as the millionaire’s nanny Jessica (Sarah Pachelli), congregating at a decrepit old warehouse off the beaten track to tie up any loose ends before each making off with their respective cut and going their separate ways. All’s well that ends well then? Not even close. You see, aside from the almighty wrench Paul has decided to toss into the works, Karmanor has now acquired his first taste of blood and is keen to build on that momentum.

Bearing in mind that Rites of Spring is his first full-length feature, it’s a courageous move by Reynolds to juggle two individual storylines at the same time, before bringing things in for a hug at around the halfway mark. To his credit, he pulls it off to a degree, although not without leaving plot threads dangling by the time he reaches an all-too abrupt conclusion. There is a bigger picture here as he hopes to expand this into a full-blown trilogy over the coming years and insists that any unanswered questions will be answered in due course. However, it’s hard to shake the feeling that he is attempting to spin too many plates, where keeping things more simple would have allowed for a more bold opening statement.

That said, there are a number of reasons why Rites of Spring works more often than not and the first of them is the inspired casting of his two leads. Ramsey (The Signal, YellowBrickRoad, Southbound) supplies a turn far more than credible and we taste every drop of Rachel’s mounting distress as she is put well and truly through the wringer. Meanwhile, Bowen is as reliable as morning breath and, though not quite as much is asked of him, Ben is constantly torn between right and wrong and the actor delivers yet another assured and reflective performance.

Then there’s the small matter of Karmanor, or Wormface as appears to be our rural hell raiser’s calling card. That would make sense as there are indeed all manner of maggots and grubs writhing around within his straw mask. Think of a mummified scarecrow and you’re in the right crop circle. However, while not nearly closely enough observed in all his odious glory, Wormface has one decidedly persuasive USP going for him that ensures we still remember him once the credits have unspooled.

This is no Myers or Voorhees we’re dealing with here. A brisk stroll is not something Wormface once feels inclined to take, and instead, he pelts full charge into the thick of it for swift and decisive opportunist swipes. Brandishing his trusty made-to-measure sickle, he gets the job done in a fraction of the time, before vaporizing back into the shadows, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. You could argue this alleviates any real suspense as long drawn out chase scenes are simply not his style. I would be quick to defend as, the fact that he covers ground at seldom less than a canter and strikes with such precision keeps the threat tangible throughout.

Last, but by no means least, is the way this beauty is filmed. Reynolds adopts a diverse range of techniques to frame the action; using close-ups, wide pans, and multiple angles to demonstrate his eye for a good shot. Cinematographer Carl Herse supports his vision commendably, whether hovering over vast expanses of meticulously lined corn fields or getting up-close-and-personal behind said rows, Rites of Spring rarely looks anything less than sightly. Perhaps Reynolds did take on too much by attempting to cater to two different demographics at once. But, if it’s true that you reap what you sow, then he has planted more than sufficient seeds of intrigue here to justify a second harvest.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: While much of the bloodshed is showcased too fleetingly to process fully, the sound of Wormface’s makeshift sickle-stick making its in-roads alone is enough to leave us under no illusion whatsoever as to the devastation each rush attack endorses. Anyone searching for skin, may wish to take into account that it is strictly for sacrificial benefit, therefore, the obligatory cow head party hat must be worn at all times. I do hope our subject can breathe under there.

Read A Horrible Way To Die Appraisal
Read The House of The Devil Appraisal
Read Charlie’s Farm Appraisal
Read The Windmill Massacre Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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