This is REKT, the column where each month one Cinepunx staffer recommends films to the rest of the fam. We may be stoked, or we may be wrecked. This month, it’s Justin Lore’s turn to do the damage. Here are Justin Harlan‘s thoughts on The Shrine (2010).

Let me start with an apology to my fellow Cinepunx staffers who have chosen films for the last few months of REKT. Each of the past three months, I’ve accepted the challenge of a REKT selection and, each of the past three months, I’ve failed. I hope to one day go back and catch up on these missed opportunities or pay penance to each of them individually in some way, but it felt more important today to dive into one of this month’s selections, as it is October after all. Of course, October means Halloween…but more importantly, it means CINE-WEEN.

With that, let me begin to dive into this month’s REKT selection that I have chosen: 2010’s The Shrine, a movie I’d literally never heard of until seeing it on Justin’s list for this month. I start, first, with a bit about Justin, a Cinepunk who I truly appreciate.

Justin is someone that I have only met in real life once. Based on our discussion on that one fateful meeting, the online chats we’ve shared, and listening to him on his podcast, I’ve grown to appreciate both his taste in film and his fresh outlook about said taste in film. He unapologetically loves both critically acclaimed films and cinematic garbage. Like myself, he takes massive amounts of crap from Liam about some of the films he loves. What I love most about this fact, however, is that he never seems to give a shit. He likes what he likes and that’s the type of movie buff I appreciate most.

Moreover, I was quite excited to see him get a chance at a REKT list because I knew there would be some true gems on the list. After reading the IMDb blurbs on a few of the ones on his list that I was unfamiliar with, I landed on The Shrine. I based this choice on nothing more than this short summary, from the aforementioned IMDb entry:

Two female journalists and a photographer travel to Europe to investigate a series of mysterious disappearances, only to find themselves embroiled in a struggle against a kind of evil they never expected.

The buzzwords and phrases that caught my attention were “mysterious” and “a kind of evil they never expected.” I love stories of demonic forces shrouded in mystery, and with The Shrine I was not disappointed. The mystery is at the center and the evil forces at play are not the typical ones we’ve come to expect in the genre.

The story begins with Carmen (Cindy Sampson), a journalist who has had her beat taken from her on account of publishing a controversial story, truly struggling about her current career situation. She’s distracted to the point that it’s causing significant issues in her personal life, as well; her boyfriend Marcus (Aaron Ashmore) feels neglected and is frustrated with her preoccupation with her dissatisfaction at work. She finds a story that truly excites her, but her boys denies her approval for the story. She decides to go anyway, bringing Marcus along as the photographer and an intern named Sara (Meghan Heffern) to help with the story.

Of course, the story that she pursues is a bit more than she bargained for. She’s looking into the mysterious disappearances of several people who have visited a small town in Poland. There are many bizarre circumstances surrounding the disappearances, including their luggage appearing in various European cities after their disappearances. One particular missing tourist named Eric becomes their focal point for the story.

Soon, the trio of traveling investigators in embroiled in an ancient battle between good and evil, demonic cultists, and prayerful defenders guided by God. Who’s on what side isn’t always clear. The motives behind each more are easily questioned and not as easily discerned. The only thing that is always clear is that the trio wasn’t prepared for what they would encounter on this trip. Piece by piece, we learn of the two sides in the battle and we experience losses on both sides, as well as with the travelers. In the end, good must triumph, but at great cost.

At the core of this story, we have several interesting themes. The most obvious one, that we’ve already looked at in the plot breakdown, is the theme of good vs. evil. On the side of good, we have both an otherworldly presence of good and an earthly, human good. The unseen force of God or angels or whatever we want to call it is a driving force behind the actions of the good on the Earth. Clearly, the earthly good is imperfect, but ultimately is the tangible savior of this world. Without someone to enact the good in this world, the otherworldly good (in this story, at least) would be virtually impotent and powerless. The evil in this story is also both worldly and otherworldly, with a supernatural demonic force possessing otherwise good – or at least, generally okay – people and turning them into monstrous creatures with a bloodlust. Medieval practices of ridding the world of witchcraft and demons are the only answer in this story, but they seem to work, so I guess that’s a plus.

An interesting theme of The Shrine that was a bit deeper and more effective for me was the conflict between the old world and the new world. On one hand, we’ve got Carmen and her cohorts, with Blackberry devices, digital cameras, and modern technology. On the other, we’ve got rural townsfolk who butcher pigs the old fashioned way and see the influx of modernity as destructive. Urban vs. rural, old vs. new, civilized vs. uncivilized – however you frame it, it’s that theme we see often in horror where sometimes what we think we know may be wrong. We think we’ve moved beyond the barbarians and their archaic ways, but maybe we need those old-fashioned ways more than we know. And, maybe, the newer, better ways aren’t better at all.

Both of these conflicts are thematic backdrops that create interesting tension and juxtaposition in this film, a film that begs for rewatches and deeper understanding. However, even if taking the film simply on its surface, it’s a fun ride and an entertaining watch. Thus, you shouldn’t be scared off by my desires to pull out deeper meaning if that’s not what you crave. Instead, you can simply watch and enjoy the entertaining unfolding of the story.

The long and the short of it is that Justin picked a winner here – and, a winner I’d never have learned of if he hadn’t “rekt” it to me. So, three cheers for Justin and three cheers for horror. Enjoy the rest of CINE-WEEN and this wonderful holiday season, friends!