FrightFest2023: Thorns Is a Frustrating Mixed Bag

I was really excited to check out Thorns. The plot synopsis I got from FrightFest made this sound like a fun mix between Event Horizon and Hellraiser, and the film even stars Doug Bradley, the actor who brought Pinhead to life in the Hellraiser franchise. So naturally, I was pretty intrigued. I’m a big fan of both Hellraiser and Event Horizon, and I couldn’t wait to see how this movie would blend those two stories to create its own cosmic mythology.

Thorns was written and directed by Douglas Schulze, and it stars Doug Bradley, Cassandra Schomer, Jon Bennett, and Bo Shumaker. It’s about an ex-priest named Gabriel who now works for NASA, and he’s sent to investigate a remote observatory that went offline after it received a mysterious signal from a deep space probe that was thought to be lost. When he arrives, he sees Dr. Malik, the scientist who runs the place, turn into a horrific, Cenobite-esque monster, and he has to team up with a mute nun to stop the probe’s signal from spreading to the entire world and jumpstarting the apocalypse.

For about the first 20 minutes or so, I was totally on board with Thorns. In particular, there were three things in this part of the film that really won me over. First, we have Doug Bradley’s performance. He plays an archbishop who video chats with Gabriel a few times, and even though he doesn’t get a ton of screen time, he still makes a huge impression.

Doug Bradley is one of those actors who can captivate viewers no matter what he’s doing, and he puts that talent on full display here. Every time he opened his mouth to speak, my eyes became glued to the screen, and I just couldn’t look away. I hung on his every word, so his presence alone elevated this first act and got the story started off on a good note.

Doug Bradley looking serious

On top of that, the mystery of what happened at this observatory is also really well done. When Gabriel first arrives, the place seems abandoned, and it looks like something pretty bizarre happened there. For example, there’s a hallway with pages from the Bible plastered all over the walls, and when Gabriel finally finds Dr. Malik, it looks like his eyeballs have been plucked out and his ears have been chopped off. The whole thing is just super intriguing, so I couldn’t wait to learn more about these spooky goings-on.

Last but not least, the horror in this part of Thorns is also pretty great. There are a whole bunch of excellent gore effects, and the thing Dr. Malik transforms into is one of the coolest monsters I’ve seen in a while. Seriously, when I first saw this creature, I thought it had the potential to become the next genre icon, so the people who designed it totally knocked it out of the park.

But after Gabriel gets away from the monster, Thorns changes gears a bit. He meets the mute nun who stays with him the rest of the way, and the movie switches back and forth between tense encounters with the monster and slower scenes where Gabriel and the nun try to formulate a plan to escape the observatory and avert the impending apocalypse.

And for me, the movie is a pretty mixed bag from here on out. Every time the monster came back on screen, I began to really enjoy it again, but once the characters escaped his clutches and made their way back to (relative) safety, I found myself checking my watch and hoping to see some more cool creature action.

A man and a nun with blood on her face

See, the slower scenes rely entirely on the characters and the story, and for me, neither of those elements really worked. Let’s start with the characters. Jon Bennett and Cassandra Schomer do a decent enough job playing Gabriel and the nun, so they would’ve been fine if the rest of the film were better. But since they had to carry a lot of the load on their shoulders, decent simply didn’t cut it. They didn’t make me care about these characters or their well-being, so I just couldn’t become invested in their journey.

Similarly, I also thought the apocalypse story in Thorns was pretty weak. By and large, it doesn’t do too much that we haven’t already seen before, so aside from a few details, it’s fairly generic. That being said, the third act does add something genuinely new to the mix. There’s a twist that I totally didn’t see coming, but unfortunately, that didn’t quite work for me either. Granted, I appreciate what writer/director Douglas Schulze was going for thematically, but on a narrative level, I just didn’t find it all that interesting.

So at the end of the day, I’m sad to say that Thorns isn’t the awesome thrill ride I thought it would be. Granted, it has some redeeming qualities, like Doug Bradley’s performance and the Cenobite-esque monster, so there were parts of it that I really enjoyed. But on the whole, it doesn’t focus enough on those strengths. It’s more interested in the impending apocalypse than the monster, and in my opinion, that’s its downfall. It works best when the monster is front and center, but unfortunately, this creature doesn’t get enough screen time to save the movie.

Thorns had its world premiere at FrightFest on August 26, and it should be getting a US release sometime later this year.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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