So long as there are ramshackle buildings, rusty tools, and lonely fields of tall crops, there will always be horror movies set on farms. And Padraig Reynolds’ feature writing and directing debut, Rites Of Spring, is sort of a farm-set shocker supreme, stacking up multiple “rural thriller” premises. Half of the film follows a gang of low-level crooks who’ve kidnapped the daughter of a wealthy businessman, and are stashing her in the country. The other half is about a pair of young ladies who get snatched from a parking lot by a deranged old man who takes them back to his barn to prepare them for a sacrificial harvest ritual. The two narratives converge a little more than halfway through Rites Of Spring, right around the time Reynolds introduces the real villain of the piece: a demonic slasher known as Wormface. Soon there are men with guns, bloodied women, and some freaky beast with an axe, all running between abandoned small-town properties and across the all-consuming farmland.
Give Reynolds credit for ambition; Rites Of Spring has many more twists and characters than these kind of low-budget shriekfests usually do. There are double-crosses and surprise connections, and a strong sense of a larger world outside of the one inhabited by Wormface and its disciples. But Rites Of Spring’s execution is rarely as inventive as its plotting. The acting is shaky, the scare scenes are fairly stock, and it takes way too long for Reynolds to put all his pieces in play, especially given that the movie doesn’t have much of an ending. There are moments throughout that are properly unsettling—the spooky indie-rock-style gospel song over the opening credits, for example, and the scene where one of the victims is stripped nude and forced to wear a cow mask—and Rites Of Spring does have a real “no idea what’s going to happen next” quality, which is rare. Then again, that’s because the movie feels haphazard and unfinished: more weed than plant.