Shrooms. I don't know why, but the title made me think this low budget Irish horror flick was going to be a film about giant mushrooms attacking a bunch of moronic teens in the woods! As it happens, it turned out I was half right, at least: moronic teens and a beautifully photographed setting in some eerie Irish woodlands are very much in evidence. But director Paddy Breathnach has aspirations above and beyond cheesy, tongue-in-cheek monster flicks. In the course of referencing everything from the '70s U.S. backwoods slasher genre, to the uber-stylish polish of J Horror, Pearse Elliot's screenplay comes perilously close to losing the plot (literally!) in a film that — if the amount of material available in the 'extras' section of the DVD is anything to go by — shows all the signs of having been saved in the editing room.
The plot amounts to a fairly standard teens-go-into-the-woods-and-get-picked-off-one-by-one scenario, but Breathnach aims to subvert audience expectations by mixing stylistic nods to some very different genres. The nicest touch, which eventually leads to a few (but, not nearly enough, for my liking) surrealistic flourishes, comes from the hallucinogenic angle. You see, our protagonists are venturing into the woods on a magic mushroom weekend. Anglo Irish college boy, Jake (Jack Huston) invites his American ex-college friend over to Ireland to spend a few days getting wasted on a potent cocktail of hallucinogenic mushrooms — each with a variety of trippy effects. The friend, Troy (Max Kasch) brings along an assortment of acquaintances and their girlfriends, including Tara (Lindsey Haun), who has the hots for Jake and is hoping to use the holiday to jump start a relationship. This, incidentally, ensures that the entire cast of this Irish-made movie is, in fact, American (apart from Jake). Thus there are no issues with incomprehensible (to American ears) accents to worry about, for the sake of overseas sales.
No sooner do this motley bunch of insufferable, self-obsessed ne'er-do-wells arrive at what turns out to be a brooding, mist-shrouded location, than Tara promptly overdoses on a particularly potent form of mushroom which, if one survives its toxic effects, gives one the power of precognition — or at least it does according to Jake. Tara does survive her ordeal though, but is soon being assailed by fractured images of a black-robed figure, stalking through the woods (with the jerky erratic movements so familiar to viewers of J Horror) and other assorted images of semi-gothic import.
Jake turns out to be a font of dubious and disturbing information, not only about the properties of the various mushrooms the group have been ingesting, but also about a local legend surrounding an abandoned nearby school, once run by sinister monks. It turns out that child abuse was rife at the place in former times, and a ghostly legend about 'the Black Monk' and the 'Lost Twin' has built up around it since then. The woodlands are infamous for some weird goings on: stones being thrown at people from an unidentified source and spooky black robed figures glimpsed in the twilight. If that isn't enough to be going on with, as the party soon discovers, the woods are also home to two inbred brothers, Bernie and Ernie (Sean McGinley and Don Wycherley), who live in a rundown shack and look as though they would fit right in with the folk from "Deliverance" or even "The Hills Have Eyes". Soon, members of the group are indeed disappearing, but the twist is that Tara, thanks to her mushroom-induced powers of precognition, is a party to a series of intense hallucinogenic visions which show her the murders taking place at the phantom hands of a looming white-faced Monkish figure — before they actually happen!
With odd hallucinogenic sequences involving a talking cow, and a strange mixture of elements that take the film from an unsettling backwoods slasher one minute, into stylish and elegant Japanese ghost story territory the next, Breathnach certainly finds enough tricks to keep the viewer alert throughout the eighty minutes, even if the constant barrage of hallucinogenic imagery does begin to get a bit wearing after a while. The trouble is, strip away these bells and whistles and this is actually a fairly standard slasher flick, and it proceeds in a fairly bog standard, slasher flick fashion. First we are introduced to a bunch of unsympathetic, vain, over-sexed and bone-headed narcissists; then they are each bumped off one at a time until we are left with the 'last girl' (whose identity is predictable for her being the only sympathetic character among them); and then there is a final 'twist' which, post-Saw, even fairly naive audiences will probably guess well in advance. This is ultimately a fairly generic movie then, even with all its genre-mixing and its attempts to wrong foot the viewer. It is, for all that, very well-made, very stylish, and beautifully shot; and I couldn't help having a good time with it, even if I was left slightly underwhelmed by the end. It doesn't help that the whole J horror boom is well past its peak, of course. It's particularly a shame for Breathnach because he does an incredibly good job of capturing the feel of such movies — unfortunately, just as everyone has grown utterly fed up with them! "Shrooms" won't exactly rock anyone's world, but if it's an efficient, straight-down-the-line chiller you're hankering for, you need look no further.
SONY Pictures' DVD presents the film in a very pleasing transfer with a whole slew of extras including a director's commentary, behind the scenes footage and half an hour of interviews with the cast.