Douglas Schulze's Thorns ventures into the captivating realm of American sci-fi horror. Douglas Schulze shows here that he is a director who has honed his craft over the years, notably with titles such as Hellmaster (1992), The Rain (2009) and The Dark Below (2015).
His eighth film is a creative fusion of horror and sci-fi elements. Drawing on genre classics such as Hellraiser and Event Horizon, Thorns takes viewers on a narrative journey that deftly traverses the intersection between these two iconic cinematic territories.
The story follows Gabe (Jon Bennett), a former priest who now works for NASA. Tasked with investigating an enigmatic radio signal from deep space, Gabe's mission leads him to an isolated observatory that has become eerily silent. This premise echoes the suspenseful setup in Event Horizon, immediately immersing the audience in an atmosphere full of tension and intrigue. The film's exploration of the interplay between modern science fiction and timeless religious themes creates a fascinating juxtaposition that recalls the sinister atmosphere of films like Hellraiser. The deliberate use of red lighting and ominous music effectively accentuates the film's hellish essence, immersing viewers in a world where cosmic dread and theological reflection intertwine.
Schulze's artistic prowess shines through in the film's visually arresting sequences, each frame testifying to the director's commitment to realizing his vision despite limited means. With ingenious cinematography that ranges from slow horizontal pans to bold angles, the camerawork serves to elevate the film's overall production value. However, in the latter part of the film, the shaky-cam technique is overused, detracting from the immersive experience. A more judicious application of this technique would have been required to maintain a constant level of engagement.
Thorns also suffers from some inconsistencies in its performances. While Jon Bennett's portrayal of Gabe begins on a solid footing, it gradually falters in its ability to provide the emotional depth required for the film's strongest moments. An illustrative example occurs during a crucial scene in the bathroom, where the response seems incongruous with the established seriousness. However, these fluctuations are partially mitigated by the performance of Cassandra Schomer as the mute Sister Agnes, and the presence of Doug Bradley, the original Pinhead, as Archbishop Jenkings. Their performances fill in the gaps left by the uneven acting, and contribute to the film's overall coherence.
Thorns remains a spellbinding spectacle, whose visceral, graphic sequences are emblematic of the horrific genre. The film's commitment to practical effects is palpable, with meticulous attention having been paid to the realization of the thorn-adorned monster. This achievement testifies to director Douglas Schulze's dedication to his craft, and adds a layer of authenticity to the cinematic experience. Although CGI effects make sporadic appearances, they tastefully complement rather than overshadow the practical effects.
Thorns presents a captivating synthesis of horror and science fiction, inviting the audience into a world reminiscent of Hellraiser and Event Horizon. Although budgetary constraints and occasional mismatches between actors prevent the film from unfolding its full potential, its atmospheric power and visual achievements contribute to a captivating cinematic journey. Douglas Schulze's work, akin to an iteration of Event Horizon, hints at a filmmaker with creative potential ripe for larger-scale projects. Schulze is ideally placed for a bold revitalization of the Hellraiser franchise, or a more in-depth exploration of his complex storytelling skills.
Written and directed by Douglas Schulze
Produced by Julie Schulze, Kurt Eli Mayry, Douglas Schulze
Starring Jon Bennett, Cassandra Schomer, Bo Shumaker, Doug Bradley, Terence Cover
Music by Douglas Schulze
Cinematography : Jack Chaney, Tom Chaney
Edited by Julie Schulze
Special Makeup FX : Daniel Phillips
Visual effects Matthew Jarjosa
Release date : August 26 2023 (Frigtfest)
Running time : 91 minutes
Viewed August 18, 2023 (Frightfest press screener)