Thursday, February 7, 2008


2006; directed by Paddy Breathnach; written by Pearse Elliott

This is what today's post was originally going to be, before that NPR story got me all riled up.

Shrooms was released in the U.S. on Feburary 1, 2008, but for some strange reason has also been playing on HDNet the past month or so. I was actually kind of excited to see that, because I'd seen the trailer a couple weeks earlier and was looking forward to what appeared to be a different kind of horror film.

And it is at first, and then it's not.

Shrooms combines The Blair Witch Project (there's that film again) with that crazy-sexy-cool LSD segment from Easy Rider. Ghosts and hallucinations? I think that qualifies as a full weekend in just about anyone's book.

The film opens with six attractive college students driving a van through the Irish equivalent of Appalachian back-country. It's shroom season on the Emerald Isle and the cast has come to par-tay!

But then weird things start happening. The van hits a strange animal in the woods and is dragged away for cleanin' and cookin' by two mush-mouthed locals, slobbering all the way. There's a legend that's told about an old orphanage nearby where a horrible massacre occurred. Oh, and something important: there's this one kind of mushroom that looks almost like the magic mushrooms they've come for, which they should stay away from because it could make them violent and go crazy and also see the future. So don't eat those ones, okay?

Early on, when someone manages to eat one of the dreaded manic mushrooms anyway, I was surprised. I'd been expecting the mix-up to happen later on and was looking forward to all the ensuing mayhem it would create, kind of like when everyone starts getting sick in Cabin Fever. When it happened, I wasn't sure whether the movie was suddenly smarter than me or had just made an error.

But following that one moment of surprise, everything else seems like an error. Soon enough good judgment takes its leave and people start making classic horror movie mistakes. They get separated. They go into dark, weird places all alone. Oh, and something important: they take strong hallucinogens in woods that are supposed to be haunted.

This last one I can forgive, because without it we don't have a movie. But the others had me looking at my watch and wondering how much longer this thing was going to last. And then there was the surprise! twist! ending! that's required by law for every horror film since The Sixth Sense.

does have a few things going for it besides its terrific premise. The cast of unknowns makes it tougher to pick out the one or two stars who'll emerge from their adventure sadder but wiser. The cast sits around the campfire and complains about the Leprechaun series not being scary. And there's a lovely scene in the slack-jawed locals' cabin that would have made me squirm even more if I'd been able to understand what either of the actors was saying through all their dental prosthetics and Irish accents. (I turned on the subtitles, and it was worth it.)

Unfortunately, a good premise, an unknown but game cast, one genuinely weird scene and sharing one of my own deeply held beliefs isn't really enough to keep things from crashing, and Shrooms ends up feeling like the cinematic equivalent of a trip that never really takes off.

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