★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Trees. Lots of spooky, spooky trees.
I really wanted to like this movie more. Does that help? Instead, I’ll probably be branded a philistine and have to return my fancy pants.
I came across Without Name when I was doing the review for From the Dark (2014). I thought Niamh Algar did a great job in that one. When I saw she was also in Without Name — yet another Irish horror movie — I was eager to check it out. After researching it a bit and seeing the awards it picked up on the festival circuit, I really wanted to see it. And then I saw it.
Truthfully, I just didn’t think it was scary. It wants to be scary and I would call it a horror movie, but I’d have to put it in the very exclusive sub-genre of Psychedelic Irish Nature Art House Horror. And if art house movies are your thing, you should definitely see this one. Piers McGrail’s cinematography is top notch. Using everything from unusual camera angles to time lapse segments, he gives the forest a personality of its own. The sound department did a great job as well. Put the two together and you’ve got a movie full of beautiful, woodsy scenery made sinister with ominous music and interesting camera effects.
But there’s only so many slow close-ups of trees I can take.
Without Name is the debut feature length film directed by Lorcan Finnegan and the story is an interesting one. Alan McKenna [An American Werewolf in Paris (1997)] plays a private surveyor, Eric, who’s come to measure an old wooded area on behalf of his client, a somewhat shady real estate developer. The job’s going to take multiple days so the developer has arranged for Eric to stay in a local cottage that once belonged to an eccentric old man. While at the neighborhood pub, Eric meets Gus [James Browne; Maze (2017)], a free-spirited young man who lives a nomadic lifestyle and enjoys psychedelic mushrooms.
Gus explains that the wooded glen isn’t on any maps and doesn’t even have a name. The locals just call it “Gan Ainm” or, literally, “Without Name”. He goes on to tell Eric how the previous owner of the cottage was obsessed with the woods. The old man was convinced he could connect with and decode Nature itself within the glen… until they eventually found him laying out in the trees in some kind of catatonic state. Eric brushes it all off as local superstition, of course, and gets to work surveying the area with the help of his graduate student assistant, Olivia [Niamh Algar; From the Dark (2014)].
Obviously, there’s more truth to Gus’ story than most folks would be comfortable with and strange things start happening right away. A night spent running around the forest under the influence of magic mushrooms with Gus and Olivia probably doesn’t help much either. With Lovecraftian flair, Eric is drawn deeper into myths, legends, and fringe science shedding sanity as he goes. Which all really does sound great, right?
The acting is very well done. Niamh Algar did a great job as usual and Alan McKenna was excellent. His character, Eric, isn’t much of a talker and is often alone, but McKenna is able to speak volumes with body language and facial expressions. Unfortunately, the movie as a whole is the slowest of the slow burns. I’m a big fan of the slow burn horror film, but I do still expect it to ultimately catch fire and burst into a roaring conflagration. I think Without Name probably caught fire sometime after the credits rolled.
Just to be clear, if you’re into artsy, atmospheric spookiness, this is probably the movie for you! From looking at other reviews, folks who enjoy that sort of thing rated this film much higher than I did and for good reason. Without Name is currently streaming on Amazon and I encourage you to get your creepy, psychedelic, art house groove on.
If you’re a bit of a philistine like me, though, you’ll probably need something more than scary trees.