An anthropology professor sleeping with one of his students takes his would-be girlfriend and several of her substance-abusing classmates to another student's family ranch home with an ancient Chumash Indian burial site, his whacked out brother and a looney drug dealer on it? What could go wrong!
RITES OF PASSAGE sounded just insane enough to work. The two craziest characters worked out the best, but the rest ranged from underdeveloped and therefore uninteresting to straight-up annoying. The hero, Nathan, and his friend, Hart, and Nathan's love interest, Dani, showed some promise of depth but it wasn't enough to completely win me over. The twist towards the end isn't tough to figure out and I thought they missed out on a couple great opportunities for gory deaths.
That said, Benny, Nathan's older brother, is extremely creepy as the Chumash-obsessed lunatic with a death wish. Even better, once Benny's greenhouse-guest Delgado (Christian Slater) really gets going, stoned out of his gourd and fueled by overwhelming grief for his dead family, that's entertainment. Especially when the stuffed monkey starts talking to him. Much of the film is rife with drugs and alcohol, so the viewer experience is often very surreal.
You do get cold-cocked by the overwhelming DRUGS AND BOOZE BAD message and there is some controversy over whether the filmmakers were glorifying the objectification and violence directed towards Native American women. I personally didn't feel that way, I thought they were pretty clear on it being wrong and insane, but I'm not Native American and I can't say how you might feel if you are. My thought on this is: a lot of horror gets a bad name for supposedly glorifying violence, sexism, deviant behavior, etc. I think that misses the point, which is that it's shown in the film in order to disgust and terrify you, in order to cause that reaction because it really is awful. Horror evokes an emotional response and it says a lot about how we react to fear.
In my job as a librarian, I do something called reader's advisory which means I try to recommend new books to people based on what they already like and why they like it. One method of doing so groups different genres by the appeal the genre has for its readers. Horror is included in the "Emotion" group along with things like Romance and Chick Lit because of the primary emotional response it evokes and the focus on character development. Of course horror can often end up with one foot in the "Adrenaline" group (in my opinion) depending on the type of story and how much action or suspense there might be. But my point is that in the end, the atrocities portrayed in any horror film are not there for their own sake; they are there to make you react, make you feel something. If horror glorifies anything, its that visceral reaction. Not whatever it uses to get that reaction.
But hey, I'll back off of that for now. I'm sure I'll get to talk about it plenty more as this blog goes on.
In the end, RITES is not the best film I've seen this year but it has its moments. The two antagonists battling it out for victims was nice, you don't get that too often without a "Versus" thrown into the title of the movie. There was something a little special there that could have been teased out, it just didn't quite make it for me. Worth seeing if you enjoy teen slashers, whacked out killers or the Chumash theme but not essential.