This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the film to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.
'Rites of Spring' is a slasher monster movie that tries to mix horror and crime drama with little actual success.
As the film starts we learn that each spring women in this part of rural America go missing and have never been found, and we get to watch as two young women, Rachel and Alyssa, being attacked and kidnapped by an old farmer. When the two women wake up hanging from the ceiling in a rundown old barn they discover that their captor intends to offer them as a sacrifice to some kind of creature.
In the midst of all of this we are given a second story, of a group of criminals who kidnap the young daughter of a local businessman, and intend to hold her for ransom. As the story progresses the criminals begin to double cross each other and their plan unravels at the same time that Rachel is able to escape from the barn and is chased by Wormface, the rag covered monster that Alyssa is sacrificed to.
The two stories intersect as Rachel stumbles across the criminals hideout when trying to get away from the monstrous killer, and the criminals now find themselves being hunted down as well.
'Rites of Spring' tries to mix two completely different and separate stories together, but fails to do so in any meaningful way. The horror story and the crime story as both very generic and use so many cliches and tropes that it becomes laughably predictable as to what will happen.
We have a criminal double cross, there's mistrust in the gang, the 'good guy' who's turn to crime because he's desperate, the brother he wants to protect but gets involved in a kidnapping scheme. The characters have no depth or characterisation, they're stock characters that have nothing to offer. Horror films aren't best known for giving great characterisation or back story, but most will at least attempt to build something for you to be able to identify with, otherwise you don't care when people start dying.
Here we have a group of people who have no real clear motivations, no one stands out in any particular way and you can't even remember any names whilst the film is going on. There are never any moments of tension or fear for the characters when Wormface begins to kill them because you're never given a moment to actually care about them. If more time was given over to the characters then perhaps the film would have had a little more depth to it, and some of its other flaws could be easier to forgive.
Whilst films that mix genre's like this can be quite effective, such as 'From Dusk Till Dawn', one of the problems with this one is that there's never a moment when it goes from a crime film into a horror. From the very start the two stories are intermixed, cutting from the scenes of the two women tied up in the barn to the kidnappers. If the film had simply been following the kidnappers, and used the extra time to develop their characters, and Rachel suddenly comes running into their hideout covered in blood and being chased by a maniac with a weapon it would have backed a shocking punch.
It's like the first time you watch 'Predator' or 'From Dusk Till Dawn' not knowing what they're about, one shifts from a generic action movie set up to suddenly include an alien, and in the other George Clooney is drinking in a bar when vampires begin killing everyone. These moments throw you because they're the last thing you expect. This film could have done that, it could have had a slasher movie crash into their crime thriller and made the project stand out.
Unfortunately, because you are aware of both stories from the outset there's no moment of surprise, if anything you're left waiting for the two stories to meet up and actually connect, and that takes out a lot of the fun from the experience.
Wormface is a strange monster too, as we're left to figure out what he is through watching events, rather than actually being told. The man who takes Rachel and Alyssa clearly believes that some kind of bizarre ceremony has to be performed on the first day of spring in order to keep Wormface happy, and so it's kind of implied that he might be some kind of deity or nature monster.
However, Wormface himself doesn't appear to be anything other than a man covered in rags. Yes, his face is messed up, but he's not monstrous in the traditional sense. He moves like a human, he doesn't appear to have any supernatural abilities or powers, and uses a weapon to kill. So reaches a point where you have to ask exactly what he is. Is he some kind of supernatural being, or is he just a man?
'Rites of Spring' doesn't give us any answers to this, it leaves it down to the person watching it to make up their own mind about what they've just seen and to reach their own decision. That I actually like. I like that face that to some Wormface will be some kind of monster that needs to receive sacrifices, but to others he's some horrible human who just enjoys killing people. It's a kind of decision that most films wouldn't take, most films would try to give you a definitive answer one way or the other.
Despite having some new ideas of it's own 'Rites of Spring' fails to impress thanks to a cliched and poorly written script, bad pacing, lifeless characters and shoddy monster design. It might be worth the watch for hardcore horror fans who want to see as many films as they can, but don't expect anything of real note here.