QUEEN OF SPADES: THE DARK RITE ** Russia 2015 Dir: Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy 92 mins
Set against an evocative backdrop of wintry landscapes and imposing tower blocks, this Russian chiller is well acted and refreshingly focuses on a flawed adult male hero rather than the usual interchangeable Gap model teenagers. Its plot and scares, however, are entirely borrowed from the all too familiar mainstream American horror model established by the “Bloody Mary” urban legend, Bernard Rose’s CANDYMAN and decades of goofier fare like DARKNESS FALLS.
The antagonist, the Queen of Spades, can be summoned via lipstick, a candle, a mirror and the repetition of her name three times. This shaved woman in black preys on a small group of teenage friends, killing them one by one while manifesting herself as an invisible force hurling people across their bedroom or appearing as a ghoulish face looming out of the darkness. Half way through, regular as clockwork, a Basil Exposition character turns up to helpfully explain the “rules” and backstory which, naturally enough, involves 19th century child murders, an orphanage and a lynch mob. Someone else actually gets to say the line “It’s OK, I’m a doctor”. Director Podgaevskiy takes a more restrained approach than most of his American contemporaries, and gets convincing performances from the young actors in particular, but the sense of Deja-vu is too strong for it to be truly creepy, and it fizzles out with a silly possession climax and an entirely routine coda.
Review by Steven West