Thorns - FrightFest World Premiere
Director: Douglas Schulze
Starring: Jon Bennett, Cassandra Schomer, Bo Shumaker, Doug Bradley
Written by: Douglas Schulze
Produced by: Julie Schulze, Kurt Eli Mayry, Douglas Schulze
Cinematography by: Jack Chaney, Tom Chaney
Original Score by: Douglas Schulze
An ex-priest working for NASA is sent to investigate a remote observatory that went silent after receiving a radio signal from deep space. He discovers that signal has set in motion the biblical end of times.
The horror genre loves to explore the end of mankind. From 'I Am Legend' to '28 Days Later', there's really an endless list of films that ask the question "What would happen if the end happened?" Many filmmakers have taken different approaches and applied their own visions of this including fatal diseases to alien invasion to worldwide pollution and more. Filmmaker Douglas Schulze (The Dark Below, Hellmaster) is back with a new horror film entitled 'Thorns' that takes a unique approach to the doomsday mythology and mixes a whole host of genre styles and influences.
The film follows an ex-priest now working for NASA, who is sent to investigate a remote observatory that went silent after receiving a mysterious radio signal. Upon arrival, he discovers the signal has opened a portal unleashing a thorned monster. Along with a nun, the former priest must now summon his lost faith to stop the signal from jumpstarting the end of the world.
'Thorns' is a fun ride. Director Douglas Schulze is a filmmaker who's clearly a fan and has studied the works of some of the genre’s greatest masters, most notably Clive Barker and John Carpenter. The film’s visual design is quite striking and pays homage to 'Hellraiser' (1987) and 'The Thing' (1982) and maintains a great sense of dread throughout, never really holding back. There are certain sequences which also feel like a tribute to the work of David Cronenberg with its visceral body horror and I'm sure the scene in which our characters see bible pages stuck on the wall of the observatory is a little nod to Richard Donner's 1976 classic 'The Omen'
Perhaps one of the best and most important things to say about 'Thorns' is about its small cast. While it's not an ensemble like some of the films mentioned above, the film actually benefits from this as it keeps the horror more contained. While the selling point of film is about its terrifying prophecy, it’s ultimately a complex character study dealing with loss of faith and questioning one’s purpose in life. A good example of this comes from the ironically named main character of Gabriel played by Jon Bennett. He is a conflicted man before anything terrifying starts to happen. He is a man who is lost in himself and is just going about his everyday life, until he is faced with literally trying to save humanity. He isn’t a heroic figure who sweeps in and makes all of the traditional, dramatic hero tropes. He struggles, he gets hurt and most importantly he’s human. Gabriel’s relationship with Sister Agnes (Cassandra Schomer) is quite effective. Whilst Sister Agnes is rendered mute and is vulnerable, it’s their care and trust for one another which makes us root for them.
The Hell Priest himself Doug Bradley makes a great cameo appearance in the form of a mysterious archbishop. Bradley chews up his scenes as usual, but with moments of subtle menace. As with Pinhead from the 'Hellraiser' movies, Bradley remains unnervingly calm and his persistent performance complete with creepy facial expressions is very chilling.
'Thorns' brilliantly employs the use of practical makeup effects instead of CGI. This is probably one of the films strongest traits and it pays off. You can really feel the pain of all the gooey body horror elements. The death and transformation of Dr Malik is one that will have gore hounds jumping with joy.
The foreboding score is excellent with certain cues reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s theme from 'The Thing'. The sense that something is coming becomes almost too unbearable and the score is really effective in creating that sense of anticipation. The sound design and production design were also tremendous. The film, for the most part sticks around in the one location and Schulze utilises this with great strength. We are confronted by long, dark corridors with blinking lights and dark shadows, which one could almost make a connection to Ridley Scott’s 'Alien' and the design of the Nostormo.
Overall 'Thorns' is an excellent horror thrill-ride. Douglas Schulze has crafted a horror film that, while clearly pays homage to the things that horror fans have come to know and love, is able to bring his own style and flare. It’s a film that you can tell has been made by a filmmaker who loves the genre and isn’t afraid to push the envelope. It’s a tight, intense and quite scary film that will please most horror fans old and new. It’s going to be exciting to see what Douglas does next.
- Joe Lennon
'Thorns' received it's World Premiere at FrightFest 2023 on August 26th