Does this plot get you excited? American teenagers go on holiday to Ireland to get up to some mischief in the woods. On the hunt for some magic mushrooms, the group of guys and girls start tripping and one girl, Tara, thinks she keeps seeing a mysterious hooded killer that is reputed to stalk the woods. People get killed and blood a-plenty is spewn. But are they all just tripping? Hrumph.
So far, so standard horror movie fare, but director Paddy Breathnach has clearly been swatting up on his Japanese horror collection and that far eastern influence elevates what could easily have been a drab, fright-by-numbers affair.
Things don’t start well. The opening 20 minutes set up the horror to come in a tediously conventional manner, and I feared that the remaining hour would be more The Eye (Jessica Alba version) and less The Eye (original). The characters are depressingly slight and utterly unlikeable. The jock, the weirdo, the cool kids and, of course, the thin, pretty girls. All are present and correct here.
Indeed, other than the main character Tara, played with some gusto by Lindsey Haun, they’re instantly forgettable and, in the case of Jock Bluto (yes that is his name) just hideous. No one could possibly be that sexist, boorish and stupid all in one go
Get past that opening section though, and Shrooms begins to show its true colours. Yes, the plot is still archetypal American slasher, but the style is all J-horror. As the central premise centres around hallucinogenic mushrooms, it gives Shrooms an opportunity to play around with viewers’ minds. Is what you’re seeing really happening, or is it all in the heads of our fun-loving group?
Messing around with mushrooms also gives an opportunity for unexpected oddities, most notably a scene involving dogging and a talking cow. Yes, you read that correctly.
Shrooms is well served by a short running time. Clocking in at a little over 80 minutes, the final hour (and in particular the final third) darts by at a suitably breakneck pace. While that means some plot points are not fully developed (the introduction of two men living feral in the woods didn’t work for me), the shocks and general sense of creepiness are heightened.
As for the figure of terror itself, the Black Brother, think the apparitions that appear on the video in the Ringu and you’re not far off. All jerky movements and slouched frame, it’s been done before, but it’s effective all the same.
Extras on the disc are pretty good. The director’s commentary is quite illuminating and several comments cement the Japanese influences throughout, although it does suffer at times from long silences. Deleted scenes and bloopers include two alternatives endings and there is also the original cinematic trailer. The worst of the lot are a bunch of cast and crew interviews that reveal little, except for reinforcing how slight the characters are.
On paper, Shrooms should have been a decidedly average affair. Ultimately, what you have here is a standard, old school horror film and without the stylish presentation, I’m not sure whether anyone would give it the time of day. Lazy characterisation doesn’t help and some dubious acting along the way jars. Equally, it’s fair to say that the film doesn’t offer up anything new. Japanese horror has been doing this stuff for years and, to be frank, more successfully than this film manages.
However, it succeeds where so many other horror flicks fail by being interesting enough to hold your attention, while proving suitably creepy along the way. By substituting gross out terror with eeriness, and attempting to marry together two differing horror genres, Paddy Breathnach has made a decent addition to the stable.