Exploring the World of Shrooms

James Gracey talks movies, imagination and mushrooms with Pearse Elliot

Ireland is not renowned for producing horror films. While some have been made in the past, many have been low-budget independent affairs that don’t register in the public consciousness. Others have simply used Ireland as a nondescript location. Shrooms, set and filmed in Ireland, looks set to change all that.

Written by Pearse Elliot, directed by Paddy Breathnach and starring Lindsey Haun and Jack Huston, Shrooms utilises home-grown talent to chilling effect, and could pave the way for more Irish horror.

ShroomsThe film follows several American teens and their Irish friend on a road trip into the dark heart of rural Ireland, to seek out and consume magic mushrooms. They’ve been promised ‘the trip of a lifetime’. What they find, however, plunges them into a bloody, hallucinogenic nightmare from which they may never escape.

‘Shrooms is a horror film with a psychological edge,' says Belfast-born writer Elliot. 'You never know whether what the characters are seeing is a figment of their own imaginations or is really happening.’

This blurring of reality and imagination gives Shrooms its originality and bite, placing the film alongside other feverish classics of the genre like The Hills Have Eyes and Jacob’s Ladder.

It’s a common sight to see teens indulging in drugs in horror movies. Critics have said that the slasher movie in particular is blatantly conservative in its outlook because those partaking in drugs and sex usually end up meeting a violent and horrific demise. They are punished for their indulgences and carnal instincts.

ShroomsRarely, though, do audiences see the effects of the drugs that characters consume, and even more rarely is this angle explored as a main theme. However, there are precedents.

Requiem for a Dream (not strictly a horror film, but extremely harrowing nonetheless) and Blue Sunshine, a 70s psychedelic horror film, follows the delayed, brutal effects of an LSD trip on a group of suburbanite graduates.

One of the basic principles of horror is to take something that everyone is familiar with, and to exploit underlying worries about that idea or action. There is a strong psychological reason behind the presence of sex and drugs in horror films. Elliot reveals that the genesis of the idea for his latest screenplay was ‘a misspent youth.'

'In a rites of passage sort of thing, everyone was afraid of having a bad trip – then as we got older this "bad trip" sort of became mythological. I was always interested in the concept of something that allows you to enter another world.’

ShroomsWhile not a big budget film, Shrooms retains the look and feel of a studio-backed production. Tackling gritty subject matter whilst maintaining a slick and stylised look was a deliberate move by the filmmakers.

‘We wanted to retain the independent spirit of filmmakers like Tobe Hooper [The Texas Chainsaw Massacre] and the way they made films. We also wanted it to be quite stylistic and glossy like many Asian horror films. There is a marriage of inconvenience when you try to group together the sensibilities of the Asian horror genre with the real cinema-verité and grit of someone like Hooper’s earlier work.'

No stranger to creating dark, suspenseful moods, director Breathnach has an established and eclectic body of work, although Shrooms is his first foray into out-and-out horror. Having worked with Breathnach previously, Elliot had every faith that the director could realise his script with menacing and brooding effect.

‘The director is a colleague and a friend of mine. His earlier films, like Ailsa, are very dark and atmospheric, so we were confident with him. He’s also good with humour. As best we could we tried to come up with a product that could help him realise his ambition and talent.’

ShroomsElliot suggests that the reason the Irish film industry has not dabbled in the horror genre so much is due to a lack of resources.

‘One of the main reasons for it is, and this is a main gripe about film-making here, that the facilities just aren’t there. One thing about Shrooms is that with it we have a film that looks every bit as good as an American studio film. This film sold to 32 countries. The main thing is having the ambition and not to be put off by making a film this size.’

While maintaining that audiences can expect thrills and chills with Shrooms, Elliot remains grounded about the reception a Belfast audience may bestow upon it.

‘There exists a culture of piracy and bootlegs here. People who want a good night out at the cinema will go and they can expect a good time with Shrooms. Most people are very supportive, but because of that bootleg culture I suspect not as many people will check this out in the cinema as we’d hope. It seems to only impact in Belfast. In the Republic of Ireland there is real support for independent and local cinema.’

Elliot believes Shrooms can offer viewers the chance to see something different in a time when multiplexes are spewing out a clotted glut of horror films, varying in quality and innovation. ‘The genre and the trend has transformed over the last few years. It now has to have a certain amount of gore and splatter to satisfy certain fans, but also be as intelligent as its audience. They have to have a certain psychological edge - which I think this film has.’

Shrooms is released on November 23.