With its J-horror influences and a genuine desire to be different, does Shrooms nonetheless manage to measure up?
Too much knowledge can be a bad thing. Ironically the central premise to Shrooms is that the main female character has consumed a magic mushroom, with the side effect that if it doesn’t kill her, it will bestow upon her mystic powers, one of which includes foresight. This ability enables her to see the fate of her friends, but unfortunately like so much of the movie, you’ll find yourself able to see what’s going to happen before she does.
I always prefer to know as little as possible about a film before I see it and had, as always, avoided reading too much about Shrooms beforehand. I knew that it had a simple but effective poster, the catchy tagline “Get Ready to Get Wasted” and essentially involved a group of youths doing magic mushrooms in the woods, while being killed off by someone or something.
However, while waiting for the screening to start I was reading the press release and hit my first problem with how it was being pitched, a problem that also affects the entire film. There was an emphatic ‘this is not a slasher movie’ ‘this is more than a slasher movie’ stance, and an absolute statement that J-Horror was the more influential sub genre, rather than any mere slasher.
And it’s this need to distance itself from the latter form of horror that results in the film being confused, resulting in it falling between two posts, being neither gory and fun enough to be a slasher or chilling and original enough to be a J-Horror.
For a movie so keen not to be considered a slasher, it certainly sets itself up to be one. A group of young pretty people out in the middle of nowhere, travelling to their destination in a camper van, the ambience of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the air before “BANG!” something unexpectedly hits the windscreen, covering it in blood and leading to an unexpected stop (for them, not us).
During this stop and the search to find out what they hit, they encounter two local Irish residents who are pure inbred, hillbilly stereotypes just transplanted from America to Ireland.You expect the sound of duelling banjos to kick in at any moment, one of the movie’s many attempts to appeal to an American audience.
In fact these two locals appear again later, seeming to have an insight into the events unfolding, but their exposition is lost due to the comedic confusion of their heavy dialect, a shame as it seemed both interesting and relevant, but is a real struggle to understand.
To add to the set up, the teenagers are then later sat around a camp fire being told the local ‘true’ horror story involving a sinister hooded monk figure known as The Black Knight and the bloodthirsty rampage he commits.
This leads to the torment of another character named The Lonely Twin – a disfigured boy, who wears a cloth sack over his head as he roams the forest, which may seem familiar to anyone who’s ever seen Friday the 13th Part 2, which of course is in no way a slasher.
To be fair, once everyone has consumed the magic mushroom tea, things do get more interesting. The first character to go wandering has a slightly comedic, if sinister encounter with a car he thinks is giving him the come on to go ‘dogging’ (a concept explained earlier in the film).
In fact if all the following incidents that happen to the group were as interesting and well thought out as this first one, the film could have managed to be both creepy and gory without feeling so restrained.
It’s always difficult in films to visualise the sensation of having a trip, or being under the influence of drugs in general, and Shrooms is almost too reliant on the audience actually having had a similar experience to forgive the total lack of logic behind the characters’ actions or emotions.
Part of the effect of a trip (so I’m reliably informed by a ‘friend’) is the power of suggestion – tell someone they’re on fire and they’ll see themselves smoking, even if it’s just from a nearby cigarette – for example. So when a character thinks they’ve seen a threat and instigate the rest of the group to run from it, you may scratch your head as to why everyone is running without having any proof of danger.
The logic throughout the movie is absolutely nonsensical, but rather than feeling like an authentic representation of being on drugs, it merely makes the whole experience more frustrating. At one point a character actually states that if they stick together they’ll get through the ordeal and then promptly wanders off by herself.
It doesn’t help that while all the performances are fine, the characters themselves don’t engage you in any way, in fact quite the opposite. They are all at odds with each other, their entire friendship group seems based on utter superficiality, so the minute there’s the slightest hint of trouble and they all turn on each other.
The result is that when the body count starts to mount up you really won’t care who dies next and this not being a slasher movie it also means that you won’t even have the satisfaction of innovative deaths.
Which brings me to the J-Horror influence.
The film really does try to be creepy with its ‘what’s real and what’s a hallucination’ concept and a few times does succeed. The fast flash cuts and loud noises do unnerve, but often feel like more of a manipulation than an actual fear of what is happening or will happen.
The sad irony is that the obvious J-Horror moments, such as a blurry, juddering figure walking in the woods, look and feels more dated than any slasher motif. I can see how the concept of a hallucinogenic trip seemed innovative, but nothing about the movie seems fresh or new.
It feels like a movie at odds with itself, more intent on appealing to an American audience and showing its heavy handed J-Horror influences, than actually concentrating on being a decent, original horror movie.
The drug concept does lead to one final problem – at some point there has to be a reveal or twist. Is the Black Knight real? Is anyone actually seeing anything they think they do? Or for that matter is anyone actually really dead? And it’s this dependency on the dreaded ‘T’ word, that will entirely make or break the audiences acceptance of the trip they have just undergone.
Unfortunately for most people, it just won’t work.
The official Schrooms website is at www.shroomsthemovie.com