Lorcan Finnegan’s gorgeous debut feature film Without Name, written by Garret Shanley, is a familiar but effective wander on the forest horror trail. It’s a film covering dangerously well-stamped ground and yet it flaunts its own intimate chills, tight scripting, and psychedelic nature. For his debut, Finnegan sticks to the themes at the heart of his short film Foxes, an eerie story concerned with the boundaries between humans 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 the influence of the forest called Without Name.
Comparisons with Corin Hardy’s The Hallow or Paddy Breathnach’s Shrooms are inevitable: both are fairly successful independent Irish horror films set in the woods. But where Hardy’s film spiraled into an average monster flick, and Breathnach’s lacked scope, Finnegan’s forest horror sticks to its cosmic guns. This is a folk horror film about something older than folklore, sure it’s pretty much a typical forest horror with touches of psychedelic and a good helping of obscured phantasmagoria, but the almost Lovecraftian approach does Without Name wonders. Finnegan has constructed a pristine supernatural environment using hyper-paranoia, hallucinogens, spirituality, and subliminals. Much of the tone is thanks to cinematographer Piers McGrail, the rising Irish cinematographer with a host of deliciously dark credits under his belt, including the dark gorgeous folk gothic of Let Us Prey.
McKenna is a great performer, but Eric isnt exactly the most likeable lead which makes it tricky to engage with his plight or care whether he goes bonkers or not. 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. Niamh Algar makes a sympathetic window into Eric’s troubles whilst James Browne’s charismatic stranger throws fuel on the fire of paranoia.
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 excursions in the past few years. Jason Zada’s The Forest somehow fluffed a crack at the infamous suicide forest in Japan with dull Hollywood spooks and an inconsistent vision. Without Name takes the psychedelic approach of Shrooms and successfully creates a solid ethereal character out of its ancient forest. The eventual intense strobe-fueled trip is beautifully disorientating and marks a staunch experimental edge lacking in the previously mentioned films, yet it never ditches the structure of a classic haunting. The result is a timeless story about madness and isolation.
All together, 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 up-and-coming Irish talent. Unsettling and immersive.
Dir. Lorcan Finnegan
Stars: Alan McKenna, Niamh Algar, James Browne