Exclusive Interview: Director Jon Knautz Enters 'The Shrine'


FEARnet:   What can you tell us about The Shrine?

John Knautz: There’s not a hell of a lot I can say because there’s a bit of a twist riding at the end. These journalists are investigating missing people.  People who have gone missing in this fictional town called Alvania in Poland. They link all these missing persons to this one particular town and someone’s just gone recently missing, and that’s why the journalists decided to link it together and go check it out. Simultaneously they’ve realized Alvania has a history of cult activity revolving around human sacrifice, so they put two and two together and say well let’s go check it out, this could potentially be a killer story.  So Carmen, Marcus, and Sara are the three journalists who head over to the town to investigate and when they’re there they discover this fog that is looming above the tree lines in the town. They’re very unwelcome in the town, everyone’s giving them these cold stares, obviously Alvania isn’t used to getting too many tourists. They (the journalists) sort of become intrigued by this fog that’s looming above these trees, and they go to check it out.

Inside the fog is this statue, this shrine, that’s supposedly built by the cult; and once they discover that, the town suddenly finds out about their whereabouts and starts chasing them, trying to capture them.  So it becomes this survival horror film, as this cult is now after the journalists. Just because they know too much now, and then we sort of turn it into this gritty, survival, horror, chase film. They’re brought down into this torture room, and there’s this very elaborate ceremonial human sacrifice scene, and then it sort of twists from there into a bit of an escape and you start to realize what’s actually going on in the town, which I can’t tell you.

So you’re shooting in Toronto for Poland?


How’s that going?

Oh, it’s great.  We have such a good team.  Pre-production was a ton of work, so it’s been pretty intense for all of us for the last month and a half.  We have some amazing sets we’re building for the underground film sequence which we just shot last week. For the Poland stuff we’re shooting in an area called Black Creek Pioneer Village, sort of a little tourist joint here in Toronto, that has this sort of landscape and feel of like a small European kind of village. It’s a little bit more colonial, so we’re doing a bit of production design, and we’re careful where we point our camera to really grab a more European feel, which it really does offer so that’s how we’re sort of setting the stuff for Poland here in Toronto.

Jack Brooks had a great 80’s vibe and was full of practical effects/monsters, what can we expect from The Shrine?

It’s definitely effects heavy. I wouldn’t say it’s as heavy as Jack Brooks just because there are so many monsters running around in Jack Brooks, but this one is all practical.  I mean we’re gonna use CG where you know you have to with maybe some wire removal, and you know, some natural elements like rain or fog, or smoke, sometimes you can really capitalize in CG with that stuff. But when it comes down to the actual creatures, and the shrine itself, we have Dave Scott, the guy who did all the stuff for Jack Brooks and Alan Cook, he’s been working around the clock for the last 8 weeks building all of our practical stuff.

I wouldn’t say this is reminiscent of the 80’s as much as I would say it’s reminiscent of the 70’s.  We’re kind of going back to films like Carrie, and films like The Exorcist [which] were big inspirations for this one.  And even stuff from the 60’s like Italian horror, Argento and Bava have been a big inspiration for me.  So I would say this is more 60’s/70’s.  It revolves around human sacrifice and we have this really great sacrificial theme, and it’s got that sort of torture element to it, but it’s not in the realm of the torture films you see these days, because we also have a supernatural element to the film, which is why I think it dates it back to the 70’s. It’s not based on some sicko killing people, there is a supernatural element going on.

It sounds as if there’s a lot of stuff in there that you guys probably aren’t letting out yet, and that there are a lot of surprises in store.

Yeah, definitely, if you like films like The Exorcist and Carrie, and you like that 70’s world, filmmakers had a little bit more time to draw themes out and build the tension, and that’s what we’re going for with this one. But it’s still very contemporary, we’re not literally going back to the 70’s because I think people’s attention spans are just different nowadays, and you have to give them what they want.  It is a contemporary film the story just keeps unraveling as you dig deeper and deeper, and start to realize what’s really going on.

I think audiences today have a different perception of what horror is, especially with remakes, creating a brand almost. It’s like, well I wouldn’t go back and watch a movie from the 70’s, but I know the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so I’ll see a remake, that was made three or four years ago because I know that brand name. So I guess you’re right in a sense when you say you can’t go all the way back, but maybe you can pull in some of those elements.

Absolutely, because style has changed, you know, technology has changed and I think a lot of stuff changed in the 80’s with the MTV world and people’s attention spans in general.  I mean, you go and watch a movie like McCabe and Ms. Miller, and back in the 70’s it’s incredible, you can watch captivating films, and I think nowadays, the younger crowds, they go and see like Saw or Hostel and they expect a little more 'cutty', a little more in your face, a little more pushing the limits, so, we’re definitely trying to capitalize on the best of both worlds there.

Would you say that The Shrine has a more serious tone than Jack Brooks?

Oh god, there’s no comedy in this one. This is a serious horror film. Even with the most serious film there are a couple of lighthearted moments because you gotta have them, but no, this is a straight horror film.

How much longer do you have left to go and what kind of plans do you  have for distribution?

Well, I can definitely say we don’t have enough time to shoot it, what else is new? (laughs) We’re on a pretty tight shoot here, looking at about 25 days to do quite a lot of stuff. We have about a month left of shooting, and then my editor Matt and I are going to cut it here in Toronto, actually in our apartment, and then, the whole movie will be done, call it mid to late December, and then we’ll be looking to release around then.

As far as distribution goes, I can’t say with any sort of detail now, we’re definitely looking to hit some festivals, but nothing is official at this point, but the whole movie will be ready to be released by Christmas time, or shortly after, probably shortly after.  We also have a making of being made, like a documentary of the making of this film by a filmmaker named Adam Beck who’s been literally filming us for the last three or four months, and he’s creating a 22 episode web series. They’ll all start to get released on the internet this fall, they show us making the film, and how it’s all coming together, which will be really, really interesting, so that stuff’s gonna start to get released come the fall.  So that’s the plan.

It’s not an original web series that goes along with the film itself, it’s just behind the scenes?

Yeah, it’s, it’s behind the scenes, more of a documentary. It’s following along the tight schedule we’re working with, and the people who were part of this, and the emotions, and everything.  It’s going to be really, really interesting.  And it’ll definitely give some insight on how the film was made technically, but it’s definitely a documentary on Brookstreet Pictures making its second feature.

In real life, what would you say your biggest fear is?

Um, I’ll tell you man, when I saw the original The Vanishing (pauses), have you seen it?

Oh yeah.

That fucked me up pretty good. I think being buried alive would be the scariest thing for me of all time, I mean just thinking about it messes me up.  Not the remake, forget that, but oh my god, when that original ends, and it’s so great too because you’re like yeah man, take the drink or the pill or whatever the guy gives him, because you gotta’ know what happened to your wife, and then  it’s like when he wakes up with those matches in the coffin and then it just ends, oh my god, yeah, that would be the creepiest thing for me in the world being buried alive for sure. I felt a little better when I saw Uma Thurman get out of that scenario in Kill Bill 2.  I was like alright, so it’s possible.  Hammer through the top of the lid and crawl through the ground, but yeah, that would definitely screw me up pretty bad.