Lorcan Finnegan's gorgeous debut feature film Without Name, written by Garret Shanley, is a rare beast. It’s a film covering dangerously well-stamped ground and yet it retains its own unique psychedelic nature. For his debut, Finnegan sticks to the themes at the heart fo his stunning short film Foxes, a story concerned with the boundaries between man and nature.
Eric (Alan McKenna) is a troubled land surveyor whose wife hates him and son barely speaks to him. Taking a job in the heart of an ancient wilderness, Eric's tenuous connection to the real world disintegrates under nature's influence.
Comparisons with Corin Hardy's The Hallow or Paddy Breathnach's Shrooms are inevitable: both are independent Irish horror film set in the woods. But where Hardy's film spiralled into an average monster flick, Finnegan's forest horror sticks to its cosmic guns. This is a folk horror film about something older than folklore, its a typical forest horror with touches of psychedelic and a good helping of obscured phantasmagoria. Finnegan ahs constructed a pristine supernatural environment using paranoia and Subliminals. Much of the tone is thanks to Piers McGrail, a rising Irish cinematographer with a host of deliciously dark cinematography credits under his belt, including the dark gorgeous folk gothic of Let Us Prey.
McKenna is a great performer, but Eric isn't exactly the most likeable guy which makes it tricky to engage with his personal horror sometimes. Plenty folk/paranoia films have unlikeable leads (face it, Edward Woodward is a dick in The Wicker Man) but here it doesn’t quite work.
Sure it’s a shame that Without Name feels too familiar, but I'd argue it's done infinitely better than most of the genre's forests trips in the past few years. The Forest somehow fluffed a crack at the infamous suicide forest in Japan with dull Hollywood spooks and an eventually silly fantasy element upset its ability to really disturb. Without Name takes the psychedelic approach of Shrooms and successfully creates a solid ethereal character out of its ancient forest. The eventual hyper-intense strobe-fueled trip is beautifully disorientating. The ending manages a comfortable twist which doesn't feel overly laboured and sends the film out on a haunting note.
Altogether, Without Name is a damn fine debut. Shanley's low-key scripting, Finnegan's careful direction, and the wrought performances of its leads make it something of a showreel for upcoming Irish talent.