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Nicola Mostyn takes a trip down bad horror lane

Published on November 29th 2007.


If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise; especially if you mistake those magic mushrooms (you’ll know them by the little nipples on the caps) with the dreaded deathshead mushroom (you’ll know them by the fact that they give you seizures and make you psychic).

Yes, alas, a trip to Ireland is no picnic for Tara (Lindsey Haun), one of five American teens who have crossed the pond to meet up with friend Jake (Brit actor Jack Huston), relinquish their mobile phones, set up camp in the woodland grounds of an abandoned young offenders home and get completely off their faces.

How could it possibly go wrong? Or, indeed, how could it ever have gone right. Within hours of entering the grounds the group have killed some local wildlife, encountered two lumpy-headed locals, survived a brush with a deadly fungus, unleashed the fury of a spectral monk and had to sleep in a tent in autumn. Deadly.

At first, the idea of adding hallucinogens to the horror film format seems like a smart move: the trippy graphics, loss of control and fuzzy line between fantasy and reality should all make for tense, unnerving viewing. But while the film does at first offer a drop of the choking, panicky atmosphere of Blair Witch, unfortunately it doesn’t manage to sustain the mood.

Partly this is because, except for the lead, the characters are pretty unsympathetic. Particularly the charmless Jake, an Irish boy with an English accent who you’d quite like to see murdered the minute he starts saying things like: “You have to get into the trip to get out of it.”

Partly it is that the mushroom element is disappointingly weak. If Shrooms had attempted even a touch of the mind-bending visuals of, say, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas it would have freaked its audience out nicely. Instead we had to make do with some speedy editing, a touch of double vision and the characters repeating: “this isn’t really happening” to convince us that they’re off their heads.

Which leads us to the main problem with Shrooms: The audience’s uncertainty as to whether what they’re seeing is a hallucination, a premonition or is real starts to detract from the tension until all the tramping through woodland just gets slightly tiresome.

There are some things to like about Shrooms. Lindsey Haun holds her own in the lead role and director Paddy Breathnach is clearly influenced by Asian horror genre in the film’s editing and appearance. (Long black hair is now a key component of horror: Just ask Cher.)

But the fact that Shrooms is directed by an Irishman makes the film’s triteness all the more baffling. If Breathnach is being ironic in his presentation of his homeland (evil monks, dogging and drooling inbreds) then it’s pretty well buried in a film populated by horror clichés and cardboard cut-out Americans.

Still, there are a few genuinely jumpy moments and if you manage to stick with the film to the end, it does redeem itself, slightly, with its denouement. You have to get into the trip to get out of it, man. Now excuse me while I go speak to that talking cow.

Rating: 5/10

Shrooms is on general release.

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