"Shrooms" Screams Bloody Horror

Dennis Harvey February 8, 2008

Every year numerous well-budgeted slasher flicks make it (however briefly) to your local multiplex. Many more lower-budgeted ones go direct to DVD. But it’s pretty rare for one to hit the arthouse circuit — even if it is from a foreign-tongued land as exotic as, er, Ireland. (Well, the thicker the accent is, the more it sounds like a different language. To me.) Which is just where director Paddy Breathnach and scenarist Pearse Elliott’s movie lands this week — at local Landmark Theatres, no less.

We applaud such diversification of available entertainment in our favorite trashy genres. “Shrooms” might put the leper back in leprechaun, but it’s still at heart a reassuringly formulaic hunk of bloody commercial horror. Let me count the ways:

1. Cast young hotties.

Preferably American ones, to shore up the film’s export prospects. Thus “Shroom’s” principals are five Yankee college students camping in Eire. Stupid hot New World tourists impinging on Old World ways! Clearly, they deserve to die.

2. …who are stereotypical enough to be asking for it (brutal death that is).

There’s Phish-fan-type martial arts enthusiast Troy (Max Kasch), his “quirky” girlfriend Holly (Alice Greczyn); pumped jock jerk Bluto (Rob Hoffman); and his princessy squeeze Lisa (Maya Hazen). Plus Tara (Lindsey Haun) the nice blonde girl likeliest to become Final Girl (don’t recognize that term? do your research, you alleged horror expert you!) and instigator Jake (Jack Huston), an English classmate who lured these chemically naive kids across the Atlantic with the promise of free crazy-ass organic drugs.

3. Add abandoned house with sick local legend attached.

Previously inhabited by monastic Catholic “black knights” who abused kids in their official care. That shit’ll haunt ya! Of course residual bad-vibage must now wreak vengeance on disrespectful Now Generation trespassers. Naturally, this is where an extended suspense climax occurs after much ill-fortuned wandering about the woods.

4. Drugz R bad.

Since when did recreational drug use in a horror movie result in anything but gruesome torment? Here, the protagonists variously dose and get dosed on hallucinogens in a region where potent, near-identical ‘shrooms can send you into the psychedelic cosmos or into a poisoned grave. These characters get stoned both in the mind-altered and rock-hitting-head sense. Shame on them for wanting to expand their minds!

5. But sex is worse.

Guess how the jock’s b.j. turns out? Not well. Think Lorena Bobbit meets “The Blind Dead.”

6. Killer has his/her/its own grainie, wobblier camera POV.

Even before the original “Halloween” (don’t even mention last year’s Rob Zombie remake atrocity), Death frequently stalked prey from “our” perspective — turning horror movies’ implicit voyeurism into something much more literal.

7. Cannon-fodder characters disregard warnings of locals.

Which here include a talking, even tsk-tsking cow. There is originality in “Shrooms,” after all. Less original is the presence of inbred country humans who come off like a blarney-fried “Hills Have Eyes” clan.

8. Psychotic vs. supernatural ambiguity.

Are our protagonists suffering collective tripped-out-of-me-mind hallucinations? Is one of them already crazy enough to kill? Or is the forest environ home to some ancient malevolent force? (Footnote query: When will Druids get an even cinematic break?)

9. Never try being nice to man-like monsters.

Well, duh.

10. Premonitions always come true.

Especially when the de rigeur nice blonde chick is having them. Before the not-entirely-unpredictable final twist, that is.

I enjoyed the well-crafted, humorous and scary “Shrooms” — admittedly in part because it’s got that great title. (Anyone who’s actually done ‘em knows terms like “psilocybin” or “magic mushrooms” are strictly for narcs.) It’s not brilliant, but sufficiently funny and creepy and freaky. It keeps us in the dark as to just what’s happening (or even who’s really died) until the very end. Though you might guess just who the perp is before anyone on-screen (including the perp) does.