Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published January 18th 2021
When horror films are done right
For those unaware, I am hoping to make a living as a writer. Not only through sites like WeekendNotes, but as a writer of fiction. I've sold well over 100 pieces, of which 70-plus have been short stories and 2 have been books. Of those, one of the books and 50-odd short stories have been horror. And I prefer to read horror, as a number of my columns here testify.
As such, I am rather critical of horror films. Whereas written horror is trying new things, filmic horror has not done much for me since about the year 2000. Jump scares instead of terror that stays with you, clichéd characters, tropes we've seen in a dozen films before. So, when I was asked recently if I'd like to review a horror film for WeekendNotes, I was a little wary. But publicity stuff I found looked good, so I decided to give it a go. And the fact I am writing a review tells you that I liked this one. Quick note: the film is the second film from Danse Macabre, a new distributor in the marketplace, I am looking at.
Writer & Director: Mark Sheridan Producers: Therese Aziz & Mark Sheridan Starring: Ed Murphy & Elva Trill Runtime: 85 minutes
Before I start, this is a found footage film. I liked Blair Witch Project and… that's about it, really. That was a strike against this film before I started. Sorry, but it is now an overdone trope that is annoying and really does not add anything. It's like those novels written as diary entries - epistolary tales. Like Dracula. Yeah, this is an old trope.
All right. Let's watch the film. Hopefully, I'll keep this spoiler-free.
We spend the first nine minutes getting used to this found footage thing (with comments about the quality of the camera) and getting all the exposition out of the way in a manner that almost makes sense. I was going to say a criticism would be that after so little time together they'd go camping… but I did that back in university, so I'll keep shtum. There were some places in this initial period where I laughed, so it was a very relaxed atmosphere… and then we're in the titular Crone Wood and we're hiking and go off the trail.
So much packed into the start. I like it when films don't draw that sort of opening exposition out too long. And our two leads – Danny (played by Ed Murphy) and Hailey (played by Elva Trill) – are actually likeable.
They find a ruined old house, explore, set their tent up and we see the first cracks in what is a really, really fledgling relationship. And then, that night, they discover they are not alone. They go back to the ruined house and, as they were getting amorous, a man in a weird mask appears. They chase him but lose their belongings.
They find their way back to a village of sorts and enter a house. They find weird masks and a skull in the bathroom. And then they are found and "attacked" and flee and meet some young women. They take them back to their house, a place full of young women and their mother who seem to take a liking to this couple. That's when we learn that there are connections to the Green Man, a nature spirit of UK legend.
And this where the film turns. Holy cow, does it turn! Danny is drugged, things happen to him, the women are not what they seem, then we discover Hailey is not what she seems, there is an escape that is thwarted, the Green Man appears and… any more and I'd be giving away even more of the good bits and the plot twists. Especially the way things end with Hailey. The last half an hour just does not let up.
And that closing shot, as the camera dies and Danny sees what is about to happen to him is perfectly done. I meant it - perfect ending.
All right, the film. The found footage technique did get annoying at times but that last half hour, wow, it worked. But then here comes a quibble. Who edited the footage (as it is clearly edited, as we see at the beginning of the movie) and why? And who overdubbed the music of the minstrels with them at the end? That sort of detracts from the reasoning of the found footage motif. And I am harping on about it because, in this film, with its well done slow build, that is the only thing I could find wrong with it.
I really liked the fact there was no music until the end when we see the music being played. The music was diegetic (heard by the characters), which is such a cool thing to have in a film, and should be used more often. Apart from that brief interlude, it was all ambient sounds of the surroundings and the dialogue. That really helped the atmosphere. I also liked that while there were a few jump scares, the film did not rely on them, but instead used a slow build up of tension or the situation to create terror. I also liked the slow deterioration of this young relationship of two people brought together by lust and little else before the reveal about Hailey.
Finally, the scenery is gorgeous. The woods and the interior of the house and even the ruins and the ritual (spoilers!) all look stunning. It is set in and filmed in Ireland, and that probably helps. This is a beautiful film to actually watch.
This is not a gore-fest, blood caking the walls film with monsters and the like. This is a film of terror and suspense and the slow build that is lacking in too many horror movies today. The story is so well-written and I did not see where it was going. I really like being surprised by a film's story. This is one of the few modern films I wish I'd written; I'd be proud of this tale.
So, if you want an atmospheric horror film that looks stunning and makes you think, then I think you would be hard-pressed to find a more recent release better than this one.
Really recommended. Available on DVD and VOD February 1st, 2021.