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Movie Review: “Brackenmore” Conjures Up Indie Irish Folk Horror

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 | Review

By: MADDI MCGILLVRAY 

Starring Sophie Hopkins, Margaret O’Sullivan, and Elaine Kennedy
Directed by Chris Kemble and J.P. Davidson
Written by  Chris Kemble
Caragh Lake Films

The term “folk horror” was first used by director Piers Haggard in reference to his own film Blood On Satan’s Claw. It was later popularized by Jonathan Rigby and Mark Gatiss in the 2010 BBC documentary Home Counties Horror, where it was used to describe three British horror films from the late 1960’s and early 70’s: Witchfinder General, Blood On Satan’s Claw, and The Wicker Man. In each of these films –  which form what is known as ‘the unholy trinity’ – the English countryside serves as a macabre place that isn’t particularly welcoming to modernized outsiders.

Today, folk horror is experiencing a renaissance in a new era defined by ever-changing technological advances. In what some are calling the “neo-folk” movement, films such as Kill List, A Field in England, and The Witch are traveling back to a much simpler time in history. Chris Kemble (Shortcuts to Hell: Volume 1) and J.P. Davidson (The Cull) offer one of the latest contributions of contemporary folk horror with their indie Irish film Brackenmore. Despite having all the ingredients for a solid folk-horror flick, Brackenmore is a slow burn that does not quite live up to its predecessors. 

Kate (Sophie Hopkins) is forced to return to her ancestral home in a small village in the South of Ireland after the death of her uncle. Despite not knowing him, Kate learns that her mysterious family member has left his estate in her name. This forces her to leave the stress of her busy life in London (and her failing relationship with her fiancé) to deal with the legalities of her inheritance. Upon her arrival, she meets a generous local man named Tom (D.J. McGrath) who helps her rediscover her roots. Despite his kindness, Kate soon notices that something doesn’t feel quite right about the village and its rather nosy locals. The longer Kate stays in Brackenmore, the more sinister things turn.

Brackenmore follows a traditional folk horror story where a sophisticated urban outsider journeys to the rural countryside. Despite this rather formulaic plot, one aspect that stands out is the composed visuals that work to establish a dark and moody tone. Cinematographers Justin and Rupert MacCarthy make effective use of the Irish landscape, which is at once both breathtaking and surprisingly unnerving. The film also hinges on Sophie Hopkins’ convincing performance as a woman trying to make sense of the bizarre situations that unfold around her.

However, one cannot over look the problems that occur along the way. One of the most glaring being the sluggish pace that causes several scenes to drag on for far too long. While one might become disinterested, we encourage you to make it to the end. Brackenmore is one of those rare gems where the ending actually serves as a kind of redemption for its earlier missteps. The last ten minutes of the film not only approach levels of torture and belittlement on par with the New French Extremity, but they also offer a fresh take on pagan traditions. The downside: the final action happens rather quickly… blink and you might miss it.  

Maddi McGillvray
Maddi is the Editorial Assistant at Rue Morgue Magazine. She is also a PhD student in Cinema and Media Studies at York University, where she writes extensively on the horror genre. Maddi is completing her doctoral dissertation on women working in horror. She is also currently writing book chapters titled "Fleshy Female Corporealities: The Cannibal Films of the New French Extremity" as well as "To Grandmother’s House We Go: Documenting the Aging Female Body in Found Footage Horror Films."