Title: Rites of Spring
Director: Padraig Reynolds (‘Green Arrow Fan Film,’ ‘The Election’)
Starring: AJ Bowen (‘The Signal,’ ‘The House of the Devil’), Anessa Ramsey (‘The Signal,’ ‘Footloose (2011)’) and Marco St. John (‘The Campaign,’ ‘The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call-New Orleans’)
The best horror and thriller films are often believed to be those with larger budgets that feature multiple, daring action sequences and stunts. The genres, which both feature movies that have garnered critical and box office acclaim, are rarely combined, as their elements are so drastically different. But the new film ‘Rites of Spring,’ which hits select theaters and IFC Midnight Cable VOD and Digital Outlets tomorrow, not only proves that the two genres can work well together, they also don’t need a tremendous budget in order to tell a compelling story.
‘Rites of Spring’ follows a group of kidnappers, led by Ben Geringer (played by AJ Bowen) and his brother Tommy (portrayed by Andrew Breland), as they abduct Kelly Hayden (played by Skylar Burke), the daughter of a wealthy businessman, Ryan (portrayed by James Bartz). The kidnappers hide in an abandoned school in the middle of the woods as they wait for Ryan to deliver the ransom. The group begins to divide, which puts the plan in jeopardy, after Ben begins to feel guilty over their decision.
Meanwhile, Rachel Adams (played by Anessa Ramsey) and her friend Alyssa Miller (portrayed by Hannah Bryan) are kidnapped from the parking lot of their local bar by a stranger (played by Marco St. John). Rachel and Alyssa desperately try to escape as they realize the stranger is preparing them for a springtime ritualistic sacrifice for a mysterious creature. As the creature begins his hunt, its path crosses with Ben and the kidnappers.
For a low-budget film that only shot for 14 days, ‘Rites of Spring’ took major risks, trying to combine elements of the horror and thriller genres with intensive visual effects and stunts at 18 different locations. The locations and stunts came across as being as important to the story as the characters and their actions, a rare feat for an independent movie. Filmmaker Padraig Reynolds, who made his feature film directorial and writing debut with the movie, used the visually diverse locations, from the exquisite Hayden mansion to the decrepit lair used by the creature, to his advantage. The bright, impeccable mansion perfectly mirrored the different lifestyle known by the Haydens, as compared to the dark, decaying school used by the kidnappers and house used by the stranger.
‘Rites of Spring’ also succeeded in showing both the physical and emotional strains of the kidnapping plan on the Hayden family and the ritualistic sacrifice on Rachel and Alyssa through the effects. Reynolds naturally implemented a physical brutality committed by the kidnappers and unforgiving violence performed by the stranger in order to please the creature. One of the most intriguing stunts is the creature’s victims being tied to a cross after being killed. While Reynolds has said that was one of the hardest shots to film, due to not having enough light and being in the woods, the sequence proved the horrors committed by the creature.
Despite Reynolds’ rightful, daring inclusion of so many different locations and stunts, there were several scenes in ‘Rites of Spring’ where the camera work began to feel as though it was unnecessarily speed up. The cuts between characters and shots appeared jumpy, which took attention away from the action and dialogue. The inconsistent camera work unfortunately drew attention away from an important confrontation between the creature and his victims at the school, one of the most anticipated scenes in the film. Steadier shots would have enhanced both the physical and emotional tension during the chase.
However, Bowen and Ramsey, who previously co-starred in the 2007 horror-sci-fi-thriller ‘The Signal’ together, were well cast in their respective roles. Reynolds, who was a fan of both of the actors’ work in their previous film together, made a good decision to hire both Bowen and Ramsey, as they both understand the emotional complexities of their characters. They didn’t become solely distracted by the brutal, physical aspects of the film; they were able to also understand the motivating factors and emotions of their characters. Bowen played Ben as a good person who is trapped in a terrible situation, and as a result, makes morally reprehensible choices. Ramsey, meanwhile, plays Rachel as being strong, independent and determined to survive whatever is thrown her way.
While there are some technical shortcomings in ‘Rites of Spring,’ most notably the speeding up of the camera work during some key scenes, the film overall is a daring, experimental take on the horror-thriller genre. Despite having a short shooting schedule and a low budget, Reynolds bravely tackled multiple, diverse locations and featured daring, memorable stunts. Combined with the genuine performances of Bowen and Ramsey, the movie succeeded in its goal of telling two terrifying stories that were subtly connected.
Written by: Karen Benardello