Ever have one of those moments where you can't decide if a film is really good or just doing stuff you've seen before well? That's kind of where I'm at with Rites of Spring. There are elements of a lot of different movies wrapped up in one package here, which sent my mind going in two different directions.
Part of me was quite intrigued by the film, because it seemed to deftly move between different elements of the story several times. The opening of the film explains the odd disappearance of several people in 1984, and tells us that more and more people have disappeared throughout the years. We're introduced to an old man who is praying to something about a ritual and a young woman who encounters a surprising terror outside a bar. And then, without warning, we get caught up in the middle of a kidnapping film.
I'm a big fan of films that manage to braid genres into one thread, and Rites of Spring succeeds in this regard. Criminals hiding out around killers isn't new - it's happened in movies like 1974's Axe to 2004's Malevolence and plenty of times elsewhere - but director Padraig Reynolds manages to really tap into two different worlds at times. There are scenes with the kidnappers - headlined by one of those "everyone has a gun" standoffs that are always cool - that remind of '70s crime films and feel very authentic. At the same time, the other side of the film takes off on its own path.
Anessa Ramsey stars as the young woman who finds herself at the mercy of "The Stranger" who intends to carry out some blood ritual - yeah, this is actually a double kidnapping film! - and her performance stands out because it feels genuine. By frantically moving through the film, continuing to run despite the horrors she encounters and never seeming to break from her mental faculties - the actress reminds of Marilyn Burns in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre by showing fantastic resolve and making the viewer root for her. The film also reunites Ramsey with her co-star from The Signal (and recent indie horror MVP) AJ Bowen, who gives another low key performance that fits the film perfectly. Acting is often a sticking point in slasher films, especially independent ones, but Rites of Spring definitely gets more from its cast than most.
But there's still that other side of my mind - the one that wasn't sure if Rites of Spring was really breaking any new ground. It's easy to see that there's a lot of talent involved in this film - it's one of the more polished independent films I've seen in a long time - but I couldn't help feeling that it was a little too basic as the plot moved on. I'm not sure I was surprised by anything I saw in Rites of Spring, as there are some effective moments of suspense, but nothing in the plot that really pushes the film to a new or interesting place. Those who have seen farm based horrors - think Texas Chain Saw Massacre or (on a much lesser note) Jeepers Creepers - will probably be pretty prepared for what they'll see in Rites of Spring.
I really want to like Rites of Spring, and I can't stop myself from suggesting that horror fans should at least give it a try. I wish there were a few more twists and turns to keep it interesting in the final act, but Rites of Spring still presents some solid tension and moments that remind us why the best slasher films work. Part of me thinks it's a much better film than I'm giving it credit for - I watched it twice in a few days because I wanted to believe it was something special - but I just can't get behind it entirely yet. But, I do get the feeling that I'll watch it again to see how much I like it then - so maybe it really is on to something.
Since I don't know whether I love Rites of Spring or am kind of disappointed by it, I leave the verdict up to you. The film will be available in select theaters and on VOD services nationwide starting this Friday, July 27th via IFC Midnight. In the meantime, head over to the film's official site and find out more about it.
(And when you do watch it, come back here and tell me what you thought! I'm interested to hear what others have to say about this one.)