15th Aug2013

‘Rites of Spring’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Anessa Ramsey, AJ Bowen, Katherine Randolph, Sonny Marinelli | Written and Directed by Padraig Reynolds

Rites-Spring

In the spring of 1984 five teenagers went missing including Mississippi Beauty Queen Tara Grinstead. Then suddenly, the disappearances stopped. But the following spring it began again with the vanishing of a string of young girls, most notably Wendy Mullins, honours student and valedictorian of her graduating class. For the next 24 years the disappearances continued. No bodies were ever recovered. Flash forward to 2008 and after a night out drowning her work-related sorrows, Rachel and her friend are drugged and taken captive by a strange old man right in the parking lot. At the same time a group of kidnappers hatch a plan to take and ransom the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. However their plan goes awry, and not just because one of the gang plans to double-cross his fellow kidnappers…

A genre-bending mix of crime drama and traditional stalk and slash horror, by way of Jeepers Creepers and From Dusk TIll Dawn, Rites of Spring is apparently the first in a planned trilogy of films from writer/director Padraig Reynolds and I know I’ll be along for the ride should the sequels finally get off the ground (Reynolds has previously admitted financing had been an issue before, during and after making the film).

Rites of Spring is, much like the aforementioned From Dusk Till Dawn, a film of two halves, what with its horror-centric kidnap and torture of Rachel and her friend; and the criminal kidnap of a child by a group of desperate individuals. However unlike Robert Rodriguez’s movie, the stories in this film are all inter-connected – Rachel’s work-related problem impacts on the lives of the father whose daughter gets kidnapped and the kidnappers themselves. It’s very much a “butterfly effect” story which, for most of the characters involved, doesn’t end well.

And whilst Rites of Spring is very much in the traditional movie-monster, stalk and slash vogue, writer/director Reynolds adds an interesting “spring harvest sacrifice” side to the story which makes for the most intriguing part of the tale – here’s hoping the proposed sequel, which Reynolds says expands on this side of the story, does go ahead as it really was the most interesting aspect of the entire film, very much in the vein of The Wicker Man and Children of the Corn‘s “He who walks behind the rows”.

Speaking of films such as Children of the Corn, Rites of Spring is very similar in tone, look and feel to the classic American deep south films of the late 70s and early 80s: the strange townsfolk hiding a mysterious secret, the unstoppable killing machine, the “out-of-towners” who get their comeuppance, It’s all very familiar. But thanks to a great script and a great cast – including the always excellent AJ Bowen and his The Signal co-star Anessa Ramsey – the film successfully rises above the flotsam of the genre. Roll on the sequel is all I can say…

***** 5/5

Rites of Spring is released on DVD in the UK on September 16th, courtesy of 101 Films.

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