Did you ever make plans to hang out with someone you didn’t like and were beating yourself up over it all day only to have that person call you last minute and cancel? Pretty awesome, isn’t it? It’s the element of surprise, or “the unexpected,” that makes something like this happening so great. You’re expecting one thing and get something completely different happen. Some films do this as well. Best example: 1996‘S FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. I saw this on opening night and didn’t know a goddamn thing about it. What starts off as a road trip-flick with a couple of criminals fleeing from the law suddenly changes gears and becomes a vampire movie — a really kick ass vampire movie. RITES OF SPRING follows a similar model. What starts off with a kidnapping quickly escalates into a monster/creature flick. Is RITES OF SPRING successful at it?
Before the film begins, we’re told that in the Spring of 1984 five teenagers went missing and every Spring since, two girls have disappeared with the bodies never being recovered. We then join Rachel (Anessa Ramsey) and Alyssa (Hannah Bryan) as they’re getting into their car one dark night after work. Before you can say, “Is that Jame Gumb?”, they’re knocked out and kidnapped only to awaken tied up in someones barn. In the other main storyline we join a group of kidnappers: Anything Horror favorite, AJ Bowen (Ben), his girlfriend Amy (Katherine Randolph), the ringleader Paul (Sonny Marinelli), and Ben’s brother Tommy (Andrew Breland). They’re planning on abducting the young daughter, Kelly (Skylar Burke), of a very wealthy couple. The film cuts back and forth between the two storylines and brings them together very nicely. RITES OF SPRING doesn’t have the same kind of violent transformation that FROM DUSK TILL DAWN had, but the way writer-director Padraig Reynolds juxtaposes these two storylines is very well done.
We meet Rachel and Alyssa’s kidnapper early on and realize there’s something much more sinister happening. Their kidnapper, known simply as “The Stranger” (Marco St. John), seems to be preparing them for some kind of ritual, but he isn’t the one who is going to do them harm. RITES OF SPRING quickly becomes a creature flick in the vein of JEEPERS CREEPERS. The creature here is very different from the one in Victor Salva’s films, but there’s that same theme of it reappearing and going on a killing spree after a period of dormancy.
The acting here is good all around and I always love seeing AJ Bowen. He always brings a lot of intensity and depth to his characters. The other shining performance is Anessa Ramsey (Rachel). She’s put through the grinder here and she never comes off as a helpless victim or as an unbelievable superwoman. She beautifully plays her role as the ordinary woman who finds herself in a very surreal and dangerous situation who is trying to survive. She comes across as genuine and real. Kudos to Reynolds for writing such a strong female character and for not resorting to the typical stereotype of the hysterical, whiny, crying female victim.
RITES OF SPRING clocks in at a quick 80 minutes and Reynolds takes most of the time setting up the two storylines and bringing them together. He does this really well, but the last act feels a little rushed. We get an explanation of what the creature is, but it’s a very surface-level description. The potential for a really interesting backstory and history with this creature is there, and I would’ve liked Reynolds to have explored it more. Adding in another 10 minutes would’ve given Reynolds enough time to build up a little more tension and not rush though the final act. What we get, though, is a fast-paced horror film with well written characters and a plot that never reaches beyond what it is. Reynolds knows exactly what his story is and he never attempts to go beyond it. He stays focused and the result is a well written film — and that’s a pretty damn good quality to have!!
We get to see the creature in a few fast clips, and what we see looks good. The creature, dubbed “Worm Face,” carries around a farming tool and uses it a lot. I was surprised, though, by the lack of gore in this one. Most of the gore occurs off screen and whereas I never think gore is necessary to make a film good, you all know that I do love my gore. More on-screen violence and gore would’ve made RITES OF SPRING an instant hit, but as it is we do end up with a hugely entertaining film. Some of you may be put off with the abrupt ending, but don’t worry; it wasn’t nearly as bad as THE DEVIL INSIDE (but then again, what is). I get the feeling this was made to be the first film in a series. I can see the sequel picking up exactly where this one left off!!
RITES OF SPRING offers some solid filmmaking chops (good cinematography, great editing), some great acting, a fun plot, and a good looking creature. More on-screen gore would’ve only helped to elevate and make this even more fun, and even though it stumbles a bit in the final act we do indeed get some closure. RITES OF SPRING is a really fun debut feature from Reynolds and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he follows this one up with next.
Director: Padraig Reynolds (& writer)
Plot: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer