By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Alan McKenna, Niamh Algar and James Browne
Directed by Lorcan Finnegan
Written by Garret Shanley
A few years back, a marvelously atmospheric horror short called FOXES played the festival circuit, showcasing a pair of burgeoning talents in Irish director Lorcan Finnegan and writer Garret Shanley. That promise pays off in the duo’s feature debut, WITHOUT NAME, which made its U.S. premiere and took four awards (including Best Feature and Best Director) over the weekend at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.
It’s rare to find a movie with such unity of vision where the director and writer aren’t the same person, but Finnegan and Shanley’s concerns are clearly, perfectly in sync. Chief among those is a gradual building of mood as opposed to more direct frights, aiming to root around in your mind and stay there a while, putting you in the same psychic territory as its increasingly addled protagonist. This man is Eric (Alan McKenna), a surveyor who treks out to a forested area on an assignment that will take him away from his family for a number of weeks—and from a brief introductory scene, we know that there’s distance between him and his wife and child already. Once ensconced in a cabin out in the trees, Eric begins to sense that perhaps he’s not alone, though he believes at first that the unseen presence is a local displeased about the land-development operation he represents.
Eric soon receives company in the form of his student assistant Olivia (Niamh Algar), and then Gus (James Browne), a young man living in a caravan on the same, unnamed expanse of land where Eric has made his base. His determination that there’s someone or something else in the foreboding forest only grows, though, and it’s exacerbated when he’s convinced by Gus to join him and Olivia in sampling some magic mushrooms. That’s where Finnegan and Shanley transition from teasingly suggestive creepery to full-on hallucinatory territory; WITHOUT NAME is described as “a psychotropic faery story,” and the filmmakers seamlessly merge a portrait of substance-enhanced mental breakdown with elements of folklore lurking just on the edges of perception.
WITHOUT NAME is a more cerebral than visceral experience, though not an overintellectualized one. The three leads fully inhabit their roles, and their relationships feel real and engaging, drawing us in and keeping us concerned and ultimately frightened for them. As Eric becomes increasingly overwhelmed by his environment and whatever may be dwelling within it, the movie casts an eerily fascinating spell that doesn’t let go until the final frames. Major kudos also go to cinematographer Piers McGrail (rapidly becoming one of Ireland’s most valuable genre players, having also shot LET US PREY and THE CANAL), composers Gavin O’Brien and Neil O’Connor and sound designer Aza Hand for their fully enveloping visual and sonic atmospheres. That patch of land may be without name, but here’s one for the movie: Winner.