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Saturday, October 19, 2013

SHROOMS -- DVD review by porfle

(NOTE: This review originally appeared at  in 2008.)

Another cheap FINAL TERROR-style slasher flick with a bunch of young morons running around the woods getting killed off by a psycho?  That's what I thought when I started watching SHROOMS (2006), but it didn't take long to realize that there's a lot more to this one than the dumb title, deceptively bland box art and familiar premise might suggest. 

The initial set-up is pretty simple:  Tara, Lisa, Troy, Holly, and Bluto fly to Ireland on vacation and hook up with their indigenous friend Jake, who takes them deep into the forest primeval for a camping trip that will include locating and ingesting some of those "magic mushrooms" that you've, uh, read about. 

"Whatever you do, don't take any of these," Jake warns, pointing to a particularly toxic variety that, along with probable death, can also cause psychosis, highly disturbing hallucinations, and flashes of prescience.  So naturally as soon as Jake turns his head Tara scarfs one down and flips out. 

As she recovers in her tent, Jake tells the others a campfire tale about a nearby house which was once the headquarters of a perverse cult known as the Black Knights of Glengarriff, where really, really awful things happened.  I won't go into the story because it'll be more fun if you hear it for yourself.  The upshot is that, according to legend, there are these terrifying, ghostly characters--the Black Brother, the Feral Child, and the Lonely Twin--still creeping around in the woods killing people in horrible ways. 

The others poo-poo Jake's story, but Tara is already beginning to have visions of her friends being stalked and killed by these spectral creatures.  Not only that, but joining the cast of loonies cavorting around the forest are a couple of drooling inbreds who make the hillbillies from DELIVERANCE look like John Denver.  Needless to say, our heroes begin to disappear one by one.

What could have been a half-hearted rehash of a tired old formula turns out to be a very well-crafted thriller with lots of spooky atmosphere and an imaginative script that will keep you guessing right up to the twist ending.  Lindsey Haun gives a good performance as Tara, who starts out as the most level-headed person in the group and then descends into paranoid hysteria as soon as she gulps that fateful shroom, foreseeing the violent deaths of her friends and running from ghastly apparitions that may or may not be real. 

Director Paddy Breathnach takes full advantage of the dark, gloomy forest locations and later leads us on a chilling tour of the huge, abandoned spookhouse from Jake's campfire tale, which turns out to be real.  The scare scenes are well-staged, and Tara's nightmarish visions are skillfully-edited montages of disturbing images. 

Pearse Elliott's script keeps us guessing until the final revelation, which turns everything that's happened before upside-down, while an exceptional musical score by Dario Marianelli adds to the effectiveness of the visuals.

The DVD from Magnolia's Magnet label offers a fairly interesting commentary track featuring the two Paddys, director Breathnach and producer McDonald (Irish enough for ya?), and writer Elliott, along with alternate scenes, deleted scenes, and a couple of bloopers.  Of particular interest are some alternate versions of the ending.  I don't think they work as well as the one that was ultimately used, but you may disagree.

Even with the comedy bits that occur in the initial scenes--nature boy Troy displaying his not-so-great martial arts prowess, steroid boy Bluto being a total dick, Lisa and Holly constantly on the verge of a catfight--a somber mood is established early on that increases as the story progresses.  Though not all that gory or terrifying, SHROOMS is an effective, beautifully-shot mood piece that is dark, downbeat, and macabre.

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