Exclusive Interview: THE SHRINE’s Director Jon Knautz
A few weeks ago I had the chance to review Jon Knautz’s horror film THE SHRINE. The movie was fantastic. Scary in all the right places, creepy enough to make even the most desensitized horror fan shiver, and had a great story!
When I was give the opportunity to interview Knautz about the film, I jumped at the chance! I had questions about where the story came from, the creative choice he made, and more.
What inspired the story behind ‘The Shrine’?
Jon Knautz: The initial idea came from the concept of a twist. I was literally pacing around my office late at night trying to think of an idea, which isn’t how it usually happens. But I kept pushing myself until I finally came up with a twist that intrigued me. Pretty simple at first. It was a great starting point. In order to add to it I had to start coming up with all these ways to hide the twist, and that helped me create the storyline. So essentially I just worked backwards from the initial concept. All I needed was two groups of people: the offense and the defense. Then I needed to set the world, so I decided on a team of journalists who were setting out to uncover the truth behind a mysterious village; the journalists being the offense and the villagers being the defense. I knew I wanted it to be a horror film, but I didn’t want to do the classic slasher set up where it’s several college kids partying or a group of friends on vacation. I wanted to take a different approach. I loved Virginia Madsen’s character in Candyman. I loved how she was purposely investigating the story of the Candyman despite the fact that there was potential danger. So I liked the idea of taking an investigative approach, which is why I chose journalists. Then the storyline started to become this kind of detective-horror thing.
Was it a difficult story to write? At any point did you feel that you were crossing a line and almost taking aspects from other horror films?
Jon Knautz: I did find the story difficult to write. I’ve never written anything like that before. I really enjoyed the challenge and I definitely learned a lot. I’m always pulling from other films as a source of inspiration, weather it be visuals or certain aspects of a storyline or sometimes just tone. I love referencing other films because it’s a way to ground myself as a writer. But there’s definitely a difference between ‘ripping off’ vs. ‘creative inspiration’, and I tried to stay very conscious of that throughout the process. Some of my favorite films are concepts that have been done before, but they find a way to make it their own, which is what I focused on.
How did you decide to shoot the gorier scenes of The Shrine? There wasn’t a lot of gratuitous gore (thank you for that!), but there was definitely room for it. What was the decision process in shooting these scenes?
Jon Knautz: I think when a film becomes overly gory, the tone of the piece changes. It becomes more about those really gory set pieces, and less about pulling you into the story. Don’t get me wrong, I love good gore, but I find it tends to sit more on the surface of a film, and I really wanted the audience to be caught up with the storyline. Heavy gore seems to get a more physical reaction from the audience rather than a mental one. But there’s definitely a difference between gore and violence. And I wanted The Shrine to be violent and merciless. To me, it wasn’t about splattering blood as much as it was about suggesting the extreme nature of the violence.
There were a few scenes where subtitles weren’t used. What was the reasoning behind this choice (I appreciated it, it put the audience at a level with the characters that some horror movies tend to miss)?
Jon Knautz: I loved the idea of exploring cultural miscommunication, and using that as a way to create tension and confusion. Being kidnapped would obviously be a scary situation, but if the kidnappers spoke the same language as me then I would at least be able to communicate and maybe try to reason with them. But if they were speaking in a different language, I think it would be even more terrifying. Also, I thought it would be a great way to connect the audience with the protagonists, so that you would be experiencing everything the same as them. And I liked the idea of making the audience think, forcing them to read tone and body language, instead of just getting a subtitle to explain it. It was a risky decision, I had a lot of people along the way tell me that we should use subtitles, but my team and I would always fight it. I’m glad we did.
[SPOILER WARNING] The ending of the film leaves Marcus returning to America. Was there ever a possibility that he’d stay in Poland and possibly help the locals?
Jon Knautz: No, I never considered Marcus staying. I mean I would never stay, I would just want to get the hell out of there. I imagined him going home and covering everything up so no one would go searching in that town like he had originally done himself.
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