Monday, March 31, 2008

Shrooms (2008)

Shrooms, a gem from the Emerald Isle, proves that Ireland can create a creepy horror film. Director Paddy Breathnach knows how to build an imposing atmosphere with misty moors, murky marshes, wispy woods and a haunted house. The film’s only fault may be the script (written by Pearse Elliott), which feels a little derivative of other horror films at times. Still, the stylish direction and spooky scenes more than make up for the lack of originality in the story.

Five American friends travel together to Ireland, where they meet their friend Jake (Jack Huston), who promises them a “trip” of a lifetime. You see, they’ve come to Ireland not only to see Jake, but to camp out in the Celtic countryside and try some magic mushrooms. They drive to an isolated location in the misty woods, where the only other people around are a pair of slobbery backwoods hillbillies (guess they have ‘em in Ireland too!). They set up camp on a beautifully green meadow next to a marsh and go mushroom hunting. Jake warns them about a potentially lethal species of ‘shroom, one that is crowned with a black top (that looks oddly like a nipple). It is said that anyone who survives eating the deadly mushroom suffers strange side effects. These include being able to commune with the dead, see the future, shape-shift or turn into a sadistic, bloodthirsty killer.

Unfortunately, goodie-goodie Tara (Lindsey Haun) didn’t receive the memo and, eager to prove that she can let loose, gobbles up the first mushroom she sees, which just happens to be one of the deadly poisonous ones. After overdosing, she comes to in Jake’s arms (swoon) and he takes her back to camp so she can sleep it off, only she begins having strange, nightmarish dreams.

Meanwhile, everyone else huddles around the campfire, listening to Jake tell the story of the mad monk and his victims who supposedly haunt the woods and the nearby abandoned boarding house. This sadistic monk used to mercilessly beat and kill the children under his care, until one of them decided to take revenge and poisoned the monk’s soup with the black-cap mushrooms. Well, instead of killing him the mushrooms made the monk go absolutely mad and he ended up killing everyone in the boarding house. The house now sits abandoned, but every year missing and even mutilated bodies are reported in the woods.

The next day, Tara swears she keeps seeing shadowy figures and premonitions of her friends’ deaths. When people start to go missing and turn up dead, no one is quite sure if what they are seeing is real or just a really bad trip. Tara tries to convince them that it is all real and that the mad monk is killing them off one by one.

In regards to the story, it isn’t all THAT derivative of other films. Despite the well-trodden premise of a group of young adults stuck in the woods being stalked by an unimaginable evil (sound familiar?) there are quite a few moments of originality throughout the film. I thoroughly enjoyed the “magic mushroom” idea and how I (along with the characters) wasn’t exactly sure what was real and what wasn’t. There was also a touch of black humor in the film…just wait for the hilarious talking cow!! I also enjoyed how writer Pearse Elliott incorporated several different subgenres (the backwoods hillbillies, the ghost story, the psychic/supernatural elements, etc.) while still maintaining a fluid, cohesive story that never felt bogged down or awkward. The pacing was also excellent and kept me glued to my seat until the shocking ending (yes, I really was surprised!).

The characterizations were a little shaky, but the film established who was who (though I still had trouble telling the two brunettes apart) rather quickly and soon after that people began getting butchered so it really didn’t matter too much! The acting also was so-so, but it worked for the film. The real standout was Kristen Bell look-alike Lindsey Haun as Tara. The other actors didn’t stand out (except for hunky Jack Huston, who played Jake) as much, but they all did a competent job overall.

The most striking things about the film, though, were the visuals. Without the spectacularly creepy direction and cinematography, this would not have been the same film. From the herky-jerky movements of the mad monk (much like Samara’s movements in Ringu) moving through the foggy forest to what was hiding in the shadowy depths of the marshes, the film is beautifully unsettling. The blue, green and gray colors used really invoke a sense of isolation, abandonment and coldness.

There isn’t much gore to speak of, but in this film it wasn’t really necessary and I didn’t miss its absence. There is, however, a choice scene that will resonate with male viewers involving an oral amputation. Many of the other gory bits happen off-screen, but it’s a whole lot scarier when left to your own imagination.

Some people will call this film just another run-of-the-mill horror flick, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself watching it and believe that the future will only bring good things from director Breathnach, who is currently working on the interesting sounding Red Mist, about a psychotic coma patient that goes on an out-of-body killing spree.

I highly recommend giving Shrooms a shot…it’s a real trip!

Buy it on Amazon!

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