"Rites of Spring" serves up two genres stories in under 90 minutes, but it's hardly a case of getting more for your entertainment dollar.
The film, available tomorrow via Video on Demand services as well as screenings at the IFC Center in New York, skillfully fuses a standard kidnap caper with a slasher movie marinated in the supernatural. Each tale is malnourished, and only when the two collide does "Rites" briefly provide some visceral treats.
Each year, a hooded figure kidnaps people living in an unremarkable town, bleeding them dry to feed an unseen ... something.
Meanwhile, a down on his luck sort (A.J. Bowen), out for monetary revenge against an employer who stiffed him, decides to kidnap the boss' daughter for a ransom. One look at the reluctant kidnapper's soft face and you know something will soon go awry.
These stories runs parallel to each other for some time, but it's how they unite that provides a brief but undeniably strong kick. And even if the settings appear routine - like a rickety building with plenty of nooks and crannies to hide, the film now has a purpose. The ensuing chases are short lived, and we're left with a few more head scratching moments than even your standard horror movie offers.
Our potential survivor girl (Anessa Ramsey) is plucky, no doubt, but neither she nor the rest of the cast provide enough humanity to make us care for their ultimate fate. That's a sin too many inferior horror movies commit, one of many reasons the genre remains on creative life support.
Director Padraig Reynolds does offers some chilling flourishes, like the sight of the kidnapper arriving on the scene, his boots wrapped in some protective covering that you know portends all sorts of trouble. Reynolds also gives us the obligatory torture sequences, although they're kept to a minimum and not played for full gory impact.
Reynolds doesn't succumb to numbing tricks like shaky cams and impossibly dark settings. His vantage point is clear and unrelenting. So when the story's otherworldly elements skip past without leaving so much as a tooth mark it's all the more disheartening. This creature is far less frightening than nearly every previous slasher menace, offering no signature style or hateful curiosity.
And it hardly does the film good to note that your cousin who takes karate classes five days a week could probably go toe to toe with it.
"Rites of Spring" ends with even less than a whimper. Call it a shrugged shoulders coda, the kind that make one devalue the modest thrills preceding it.
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