Rites of Spring (2011)
“Fear has a season”
Director: Padraig Reynolds
Cast: AJ Bowen, Anessa Ramsey, Sonny Marinelli
Synopsis: A ransom scheme turns into a nightmare for a group of kidnappers who become victims of a horrifying secret that must be paid every spring.
Every successful horror franchise — the beginning of which this movie was undoubtedly intended to be — needs its iconic boogeyman and Padraig Reynolds’ Rites of Spring has a pretty memorable one in Worm Face, a hulking brute swaddled in filthy bandages who might be a corpse in an advanced state of decay, or a murderous leper on whose face grubs can be seen to be feasting. The movie is fairly vague on his origins, which again might be down to the fact that it was probably intended as the first of a series, or might simply be down to lazy writing (Reynolds, again).
The plot involves the intertwining of two separate storylines, and the first half of the movie during which Reynolds alternates between the two plots works a lot better than the second half. One strand sees Rachel Adams (Anessa Ramsey) and Hannah Bryan (Alyssa Miller) being abducted from outside a bar late one night and awaking the following morning to find themselves hanging by their tied wrists from the roof beam of an old barn. Every so often, a creepy old man (Marco St. John) wanders in and asks them if they’re clean before collecting a bowlful of their blood, which he then throws into a locked cellar in which the aforementioned Worm Face resides. Meanwhile, Ben (A J Bowen) and Paul (Sonny Marinelli) are preparing, with the help of Ben’s younger brother, Tommy (Andrew Breland) and girlfriend, Amy (Katherine Randolph), to abduct the young daughter of wealthy businessman Ryan Hayden (James Bartz) for a ransom of $2 million. During the abduction of the girl from Hayden’s mansion, Paul decides it’s necessary to also abduct the girl’s nanny, Jessica (Sarah Pachelli) after she sees his face and, just to make sure Hayden understands he’s not fooling around, after Ben and Amy have spirited the child into their getaway car he then shoots Mrs Hayden (Shanna Forestall) in the head.
While the kidnappers are securing their hostages in a disused farm and ensuring Hayden is complying with their demands, the creepy old man who abducted Rachel and Hannah has advanced with his mysterious preparations by placing a paper mache cow’s head on Hannah’s head and stripping her naked. When Rachel awakens to find her friend missing, she manages to release herself and sets off in search of her. She finds her easily enough, hanging in another part of the barn, but Hannah no longer has two heads, having lost her real one somewhere on the journey. When the creepy old man tries to overpower her, Rachel manages to get the better of him, and it’s at this point that Worm Face decides to emerge from his cellar and give chase. Rachel naturally legs it, and her lengthy flight from the pursuing Worm Face takes her to the deserted farm building in which Paul, Ben and the rest of the gang are holed up with their hostage.
It’s at this point that Rites of Spring gives up on trying to be a little different by combining crime thriller and horror genre and reverts to straightforward stalk-and-slash horror. The body count mounts with alarming regularity, and not all of them are despatched by Worm Face. In fact there’s a big twist that is totally unexpected — largely because it directly contradicts an earlier scene at Hayden’s mansion. Maybe Reynolds missed it, or maybe he just hoped the audience would, but either way it obviously dulls the impact of that twist considerably. Another loose end — again, which might have been addressed in the probably never-to-be-made sequel — sees one character simply disappear unseen, fate unknown. By this point, however, Rites of Spring has descended to the level of the countless stalk-and-slash movies that have littered the horror genre since the early 1980s, presenting us with nothing new as it does so, and reducing the obligatory final girl standing to a blundering fool whose survival depends more on blind luck than ingenuity or resourcefulness on her part.