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Review: ‘Thorns’ Brings the Scares from Michigan Director Douglas Schulze

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As someone who can easily scare, I haven’t always enjoyed horror films. I didn’t like Halloween, I wasn’t much for bumps in the night or jump scares. However, at the age of 13 my sister introduced me to Death Becomes Her and The Others, which is baby horror compared to what I can stomach now. With children trick ‘r treating outside and the lights turned down low, she guided me into a world of horror that changed me, as well as our relationship, forever. So when I was invited to the premiere of Thorns, a new scary movie that is making its debut, there was only one person I had in mind to take with me.

Thorns, written and directed by Douglas Schulze and filmed on location in Michigan, stars horror legend Doug Bradley. You may know him as the original Pinhead from the Hellraiser series. While Bradley might be the draw to see this film, Thorns features other talents. Jon Bennett and Cassandra Schomer take center stage in a horror film that makes you think as much as it makes you jump with fright. With this film arriving in Emagine theaters across Michigan for a limited release and a wider release just around the corner, it’s time to get acquainted with Thorns.

[Warning: spoilers from Thorns are below!]

Going silent and a monster unleashed in Thorns

It’s never a good thing when an entire scientific outpost goes silent, even more so when it’s responsible for one of the strongest space probes ever created. What could have possibly happened to make the station go down, and where the hell is Dr. Malik (Bo Shumaker)? These questions float through Gabriel’s (Jon Bennett) mind as he makes his way to the remote station in Northern Michigan, with some guidance via FaceTime from Archbishop Jenkins (Doug Bradley).

What Gabriel isn’t prepared for is the absolute disaster and disarray in which he finds the base of operations. The lights are out, except for the creepy red emergency ones that throw most of the hallways into shadow. The walls are covered in Bible pages, billowing in a wind breeze that seems to come from nowhere. And of course, Dr. Malik is dead. If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s a mysterious sound pouring in from outer space which seems connected to whatever is going on at the station, and a demon lurks about.

The monster in Thorns
Image of the monster in Thorns. (Dark Planet Productions)

Yeah… A demon of terrifying proportions who has a plan to unleash hell on Earth. So it’s up to Gabriel and Sister Agnes (Cassandra Schomer) to stop the demon from enacting this plan before it’s too late. Can these two unlikely heroes save the day, or is Earth doomed to a new reality? You’ll have to check out Thorns when it arrives in a theater near you to find out how this film wraps it all up.

The positives and negatives of Thorns

This film is for those who love horror that extends outside the major blockbuster franchises. Thorns honors the essence of the 80s horror film genre, with an aesthetic firmly rooted in B-flicks. For some, that might not be appealing, but it worked magnificently for me and the other horror fans in the audience. The film utilizes practical effects, such as prosthetics for the demon and a “puppet” of sorts in a later scene. 

This adds to the campiness of the film, but also to the longevity of the effects, as CGI rarely holds up as well as something physically present and alive on screen. While this approach might have been due to budget restraints, as this is an independent movie, it adds to the feel that is coursing through Thorns’ veins. The monster looked fantastic, making me even more excited about the film.

Schulze’s script is strong, with fantastic action and dialogue, but more importantly, Thorns is a horror film that makes viewers stop and think. Without spoiling it, the film resides at the corner of science and religion, which is a corner that tends to come into conflict frequently throughout history. However, Thorns looks to explore the intersection of these two topics through a new lens.

What happens when religion and science have to work together? More specifically, what if the horrors we’ve always feared become reality due to science and religion working together? I watched the film three times to fully digest the message that was at the center of Thorns, which speaks to the script that served as the guide for this film.

Doug Bradley in Thorns
Doug Bradley as Archbishop Jenkins in Thorns. (Dark Planet Productions)

That isn’t to say that there weren’t some plot holes in the story because there were. Most were things that could have easily been explained away with small incremental changes or scenes. Such as, how does Sister Agnes learn American Sign Language, when we saw earlier in the film that she could speak and had subsequently been locked in the basement of the outpost? Perhaps a simple sign somewhere at the school she taught at could have shown that it was a school for the deaf. These plot holes didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the film, but I do think it would have enhanced the Thorns just a bit.

Jon Bennett and Cassandra Schomer give excellent performances as Gabriel and Sister Agnes, respectively. These two carry the film from start to finish, as they work together to stop the monster from unleashing his own brand of evil. While Doug Bradley is the pull to see this movie, as many horror fans will rush to see the original Pinhead in another genre piece, it’s that of Bennett and Schomer that kept me engaged.

The role of Archbishop Jenkins feels almost shoehorned in, although it gains some importance as Thorns continues. But you could tell that Bradley was added in because of his star power. The use of digitally adding him to screens across the film felt clunky, but eventually, the role added to the larger narrative and felt a bit more active. Perhaps that decision to add Bradley in via green screen was due to the time restraints, but I think it might have added something more if he was present in some of these scenes, therefore facilitating a new level of horror.

Also, a bit of warning, there is quite a bit of body horror in Thorns, which may be something that turns off many people. As the host of our Q&A previously warned, “When I thought there couldn’t be more intestines, there was”. This type of horror isn’t for everyone. It isn’t my favorite kind, but there are only a few scenes that forced me to cringe and look away.

Final thoughts on this monster horror experience

Thorns was a pleasant surprise of a horror film. There may be a few scenes that lean heavily into the blood and gore, the film instead focuses on a deeper type of horror. Thorns presented itself as more of a think piece with horror elements added in, to make the topics more digestible. Thorns isn’t the type of film that you just see once, instead, it needs to be taken in again and again, as the levels of the message unravel a bit at a time. If Thorns is playing in a theater near you, get a ticket to see this one-of-a-kind horror experience.

Thorns is now screening at Emagine theaters for a limited release . The film opens with a wider release on March 13. Are you planning on checking out this film? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or The Cosmic Circus Discord!

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Brian Kitson

Working hard to bring you the latest news and thoughtful analysis of all things nerdy!

Brian Kitson has 365 posts and counting. See all posts by Brian Kitson