03rd May2018

‘Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite’ DVD Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Alina Babak, Valeriya Dmitrieva, Igor Khripunov, Evgeniya Loza, Sergey Pokhodaev, Valentin Sadiki, Vladimir Seleznyov | Written and Directed by Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy

queen-spades-dvd

There is an ancient ritual known to humankind for more than a hundred years…According to the legend, an ominous entity known as the Queen of Spades can be summoned by drawing a door and staircase on a mirror in the darkness, and by saying her name three times. The Queen of Spades gets her energy from reflective objects; she cuts locks of hair from those asleep, and those that see her go mad or die. Four teenagers decide to call the Queen of Spades as a joke. But when one of them dies of a sudden heart attack, the group realizes they are up against something inexplicable and deadly dangerous.

Recently we saw the UK release of Guardians, a Russian-made take on superhero movies – well, with Queen of Spades we now have the Russian take on J-Horror. Obviously inspired by the likes of The Ring and The Grudge, Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite (to give the film its full title), is an effective – if cliched – horror tale. I say cliched as the story is, honestly, nothing new. It’s inspired by the same urban legends that influenced the likes of and US-horrors such as Candyman, Mirrors (though thematically this film is more the exploitation sequel Mirrors 2, rather than the mainstream original) and Urban Legend: Bloody Mary, but despite that writer/director Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy’s film is still a fantastic watch.

Why Podgaevskiy film succeeds is, ultimately, his cast; and the fact the writer/director (even though this is only his second feature) has clearly studied the genre, crafting a film that looks and feels like a big-budget “Hollywood” spook-filled story. He manages to ring every ounce of tension from the film, playing up the familiar but in a way that plays on the audiences prior experiences with the genre – we’ve seen this type of film before so we know what’s coming, it’s just in this particular case we don’t know when, thus Podgaevskiy’s particular scenes of terror are seemingly elongated as if to torture the audience through their expectations.

Yes, Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite borrows a LOT from per-existing genre fare but when its crafted this well that can be somewhat forgiven. Especially given that this tale also gives us a very Russian take on this genre trope (in much the same way Guardians offered a new perspective on the “superhero”). The film looks as cold and unforgiving as its monster AND its wintery landscape, yet at the heart of the story is the warmth of the family. A family coming together to try and save their daughter from the evil titular Queen; a task which, ultimately, makes the family stronger than its ever been. It’s that hope-filled familial core that gives Queen of Spades the edge over other cliched horror fare.

Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite is available on DVD now from High Fliers.

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