When I emigrated from Ireland in 2001, I couldn’t have named one horror film my country had produced, except for maybe Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves, and whether or not that’s even horror, or even entirely Irish, is open to debate. But, perhaps due in no small part to the economic decline in my homeland, which historically and globally tends to incite creative types to express themselves with renewed fervor, a number of Irish horror films have cropped up on our screens over the past few years. And while of course there are duds, more than a couple of them are very good indeed, and leave me excited to see what these filmmakers come up with next. Here’s a list of those I think are worth your time:
The setup for this is a typical and familiar one: Loving couple gets lost in unfamiliar territory and find themselves stalked by someone/something. It’s how this is handled, particularly toward the end, that helps differentiate IN FEAR from standard fare like WRONG TURN, WOLF CREEK, THE HITCHER etc. Using the dreary fog and rain-shrouded countryside to maximum effect, director Jeremy Lovering pulls us into the mood and keeps us there with some interesting, nihilistic twists on a tired premise.
After the violent deaths of her parents and younger brother, a young girl is taken in by her neighbors, who soon find themselves tormented by inexplicable occurrences. Aided in no small part by an incredibly convincing and therefore all the more disturbing performance from child actor Missy Keating, DARK TOUCH makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience (as it always is when the subject is child abuse), but director Chad Crawford Kinkle plays things with a measured and often clever hand. And while the bulk of the film is quietly sinister, it’s book-ended by a pair of truly unsettling sequences.
The only comedy-horror that appears on this list, GRABBERS will appeal to those of you who count TREMORS and ATTACK THE BLOCK among your favorite sci-fi horror films. In a preposterous (or is it?) conceit, a ragtag group of islanders discover that the only way to avoid getting chomped by the squid-like aliens who have laid siege to their island, is to hole up in a bar and get drunk, as apparently the aliens can’t drink blood that has been tainted by booze. Works for me. The proceedings are helped enormously by the humor throughout, as well as game performances by all concerned, and some excellent special effects.
At the opposite end of the scale from squishy aliens and exploding heads, we have this quiet little gem, about a lonely widower who makes a connection with a novelist and romance blossoms. But as soon as he decides to love again, he begins to suffer strange paranormal visitations (one of which had me jumping a foot off the couch.) The entire movie rests more or less on the shoulders of the always excellent Ciaran Hinds (GAME OF THRONES), who brings the appropriate amount of gravitas to the proceedings. A sad and creepy story, as likely to have you weeping as jolting in your seat.
CITADEL uses its low budget and central premise–that of a young father stricken by agoraphobia after failing to save his wife from a gang of violent youths–to great effect. Like the main character’s affliction, the mood in CITADEL is suffocating, and director Ciaran Foy ratchets up the tension by slow degrees until it’s almost unbearable. Reminiscent at times of David Cronenberg’s THE BROOD without the gooshy biology, CITADEL has plenty to say about societal decay and the fears of being a parent too, which only adds to the terror.
Despite the hokey premise (which is actually presented better than it sounds) of a remote Irish farm being the epicenter of gruesome experiments on livestock, there’s a lot that actually works here, from the mood and solid performances, to the creature effects. And while it loses something toward the end, the journey to get there is lots of splattery fun. Just be sure you’re not eating while watching it. Seriously.
With an obvious debt to THE WICKER MAN and PET SEMATARY, WAKE WOOD is almost a very good movie but falls just a little short where so many low budget horror films do: in the ending. Still, there’s a lot of creepiness here, starting with the central idea that if you lost a child, you could, with certain sacrifices, get them back. That’s always a harrowing setup for a film, and this one is no different. With good performances by Aidan Gillen (another GAME OF THRONES alumnus) and Eva Birthistle, and the by now requisite foggy rural landscape to deepen the mood, you could do a lot worse than WAKE WOOD.
At almost every turn, I suspected I knew where director Ivan Kavanagh’s spook story, THE CANAL, was going, and although I was right most of the time, this story about the disappearance of a film archivist’s cheating wife and the suspicion that falls upon him as a result, is extraordinarily effective, thanks to some nifty choreography and a double-punch ending that will suck the breath from your lungs. Proving yet again that minimalism and good camerawork can compensate for a lack of budget, this is a ghost story that gets everything right.
So there you have it, my list of eight Irish horror movies I consider worth a look. Let me know what you think in the comments below, and if there’s any justice, I’ll be able to do another list of good Irish horror movies not too long from now.