Ben: “What are you doing?”
Stranger: “It has to be fed—for the harvest.”
Ben: “Why are you doing this?”
Stranger: ‘Tradition. It’s the family way.”
With Winter squarely in the rear-view mirror, the following film review seems rather fitting; Rites of Spring is a taut genre mash-up blending elements of a crime-gone-wrong with aspects of traditional creature-features.
Check out my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: A ransom scheme turns into a nightmare for a group of kidnappers who become victims of a horrifying secret that must be paid every spring.
Lead actor A.J. Bowen is extremely well versed at playing nefarious villains; he’s made our skin crawl in films like The Signal, House of the Devil, You’re Next, and A Horrible Way To Die. But while his character in Rites of Spring is certainly ethically-challenged, it’s still somewhat of a unique role for him; Ben Gering is a morally-conflicted kidnapper, a good man forced by circumstances into taking drastic actions. The magnitude of the situation clearly weighs heavily on him. This time, we never fear A.J.’s character who, in fact, emerges as the film’s hero.
Rites of Spring also sees A.J. Bowen reunited with actress Anessa Ramsey; these two played the dysfunctional married couple who’s violent relationship is at the heart of The Signal. This time, Ramsey plays Rachel Adams, another character in the throws of an ethical conflict, one that centers on a co-worker who was fired for a mistake she made. She’s weighing her moral responsibility against the prospect of being unemployed herself. And while she makes a decision to do the right thing, Rachel soon has much bigger problems to deal with.
At the onset, Rites of Spring seems to be about two unrelated kidnappings going down simultaneously in rural Mississippi. While Ben and his crew are nabbing the young daughter of rich industrialist Ryan Hayden (James Bartz), Rachel and her drinking buddy Alyssa (Hannah Bryan) are abducted by an old farmer ominously referred to as the Stranger (Marco St. John). When Ben and his posse are holed up waiting for the ransom to arrive, Rachel and Alyssa are strung up in an old barn, subjected to an unnerving cleansing ritual involving animal masks. It’s very unsettling to say the least, and these scenes of hysterical captivity are some of the hardest to endure.
The film is way past the half-way mark before these two disparate plot-lines meld into one; there is indeed a connection between the two groups—most specifically between Rachel and Ben. But I found myself struggling with the filmmakers’ intentions. While Rachel and Ben know each other, the simultaneous kidnappings are not related. Is this simply a coincidence, a case of “It’s a small world, after all”? In films and literature, coincidences are extremely rare anomalies. So I delve into the subtext and examine the principals of cause and effect. While they are decent people at their core, Ben and Rachel are both conflicted; while they merely act out of natural desires for self-preservation, they both stand to benefit from ill-gotten gains. Perhaps writer/director Padraig Reynolds means to imply some sort of karmic balancing of the scales—but in truth, your guess is as good as mine.
The creature hiding beneath the barn is the X-Factor/wild-card that makes Rites of Spring a very compelling narrative. Referred to in the credits as “Karmanor”, I will now paraphrase Wikipedia for an explanation:
Karmanor (or Carmanor) was a Cretan demi-god related to the harvest. He was the Lord of Tarrha, Crete and the consort to Demeter in Greek mythology. He was killed by a jealous Zeus with a lightning-bolt.
How an ancient Greek demi-god ended up under a barn in rural Mississippi is anyone’s guess. We overhear bits of a televised farm report that implies we are in a community that reaps above average crops—perhaps due to some supernatural “deal with the devil”, but that’s all we get in terms of a back-story. The creature FX are very interesting and, for the most part, excellent. Karmanor (also referred to as “Worm Face”) looks kind of like a decaying demon wrapped up like a mummy. He wields an intimidating scythe and seems athletically powerful. His eyes are ridiculously creepy and worms crawl under a veil that covers his face. My biggest complaint is that we never see this creature without the veil, as I imagine what lies beneath is truly gruesome—but perhaps this is a case of more-is-less.
It’s not a perfect film, but it’s very well done. At 80 minutes, Rites of Spring is lean and mean, impactful and never dull. There are some glaring loose ends (what the heck happened to the little girl?!?) but nothing that tarnishes the overall presentation. I’d love to see a prequel to this film, one that explains Karmanor’s origins and the community’s complicity in his yearly “feedings”. There’s certainly enough good stuff in this film to warrant some sort of continuation. Great work!
3 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Directed by||Padraig Reynolds|
|Produced by||Wes Benton
|Screenplay by||Padraig Reynolds|
|Starring||A. J. Bowen,
Marco St. John
|Music by||Holly Amber Church|
|Editing by||Aaron Peak|
|Studio||Red Planet Entertainment,
White Rock Lake Productions,
|Distributed by||IFC Films|