It never ceases to amaze me how someone can come up with a novel idea for a horror film and drag it straight into the ground. It’s rarely a matter of execution. The problem often lies in a doubt that sets in. A good film can become a forgettable film through unnecessary inclusion of clichés just to better meet audience expectations and genre standards.
Shrooms starts as a promising small horror film. Five friends from the US visit an Irish friend for a drug filled vacation. Their target is a rare hallucinogenic mushroom described as one of the strongest that can be found. While gathering their crops, one friend consumes a poisonous mushroom that can either kill a person through organ failure or imbue mystical psychic properties on a survivor. This friend begins to have horrific visions of each of the friends dying. Is any of this really happening or is it merely a side effect of the drugs?
That would have been a unique horror film. The narrative might not have held up for a full feature leading to a satisfactory conclusion, but it would have stood out as something different in the realm of modern horror. Too bad writer Pearse Elliott began laying the clichés on thick. The friends get into a car accident early on that puts them on edge. Backwoods rednecks (their Irish equivalent, at least) show up to eat road kill and wander off with menacing grimaces. A long-haired ghost is spotted toying with the friends in an impossibly jerky, jumpy style of movement. A killer with a strange weapon and a cloak appears to torment the friends. Worst of all, a mysterious abandoned home for wayward boys looms in the distance with a dark secret history. Instead of enhancing the narrative, the clichés act as a distraction to the interesting psychological elements in play.
All of this is a terrible shame. The cast is great. They all sell some very tricky emotional shifts on top of a convincing hallucinatory haze. The cinematography is great for being shot with mostly natural light. Colors are used to great eerie effect in gorgeously composed shots of natural and artificial landscapes. The music cues are a bit generic and some of the effects editing is a bit derivative, but the placement and execution are solid. Director Paddy Breathnatch was rightly nominated for Ireland’s biggest film award in direction. Even if the film falls short of greatness, Breathnatch’s direction is superb.
When the film is allowed to breathe in its own fumes, it’s quite startling. The problems all lie in the clichés. This was not a film that needed added familiarity. It’s well established in horror film history that drug abuse and sexual activity will lead to bad things. Even if placed in a whole new context, these temptations will send out a signal that the characters will suffer for their behavior. I could look past the clichés if the twist ending was anything different; it’s not. In fact, it’s so well tread and out of place in this film that I feel it necessary to discourage others from watching this film. It is essential to have a high tolerance for very predictable, uninventive horror films to get any joy from Shrooms; everyone else will see the film drift away into a numb cloud of cluttered memories.