Paddy Breathnach still young in the directorial world with a only few films under his belt and in 2006 he brings not an anti drug message to our senses but rather a stab at a mix between teen slash movie and the more refined psychological Asian offerings of late.
A group of college kids, Tara (Lindsey Haun), Troy (Max Kasch), Lisa, (Maya Hazen), Bluto (Robert Hoffman) and Holly (Alice Greczyn) head out from their relatively stable American homesteads to visit Jake (Jack Huston), an old friend who lives in Ireland. The main purpose of their reunion however is not to catch up on events gone by but to indulge in a Shroom (or Magic Mushroom) trip. Apparently Ireland has the best around and it seems only fair to travel 5000 miles for a one-day trip.
Tensions run a little high between various members of the ensemble, the usual bickering between late teens. Jake tells the story of a local children's home run by delusional monks and drug virgin Tara unfortunately samples the local “Deaths Head” shrooms, Tara starts seeing visions of things to come and they are not at all pleasant; usually involving the brutal demise of her fellow travellers.
I think here that Breathnach respects and understands that the modern wave of Asian horror is head and shoulders above the current crop of horror offerings from Hollywood. He also realises that Hollywood is where the money is and if he at least wants to make a commercial success then he has to pander predominantly to that market. It was a fair enough decision from him to try and amalgamate the two but in the end unfortunately it doesn't quite work.
The film starts off well enough with the introduction of the cast, their arrival in Ireland and the apprehension and anticipation of taking these mushrooms. At the start an eerie mood is created and for a modern horror it moves along quite nicely creating the required atmosphere for later in the film when you expect the details about the children's home and their own trips to merge. Alas, really all that happens towards the end is Tara's visions are lived out and what started out as a psychological horror rapidly descents into another run of the mill hack and slash who done it kind of affair.
I suppose the best way to describe Shrooms to anyone would be a cross between The Blair Witch and any one of Ringu, Noroi or Audition but unfortunately it doesn't really come close to any of them. Many will insisit that it's far superior to the earlier Blair Witch in so far that there's far more gore but for me that misses the whole point. The truly scary thing about The Blair Witch is precisely the fact that you don't see anything in particular, it's only ever hinted at and as such it's the viewers imagination which makes up the rest and that's where the true demons for that film are born. Shrooms has this opportunity also but rather than concentrate on the psychological horrors which might be running through our small bands tripped out meanderings it takes the cop out approach.
In the end rather than explore and exploit this wonderful base Breathnach deviates somewhat to satisfy the bloodlust of the teen target audience. Admittedly this is in fact what he was trying to achieve; in his own words he wanted this meeting of two different horror genres. In my own opinion however he would have been better suited sticking to just one, and it seems that he had the ground covered to make a suitably spooky European variant on the Asian genre.
Again during the first third or half of the film he sets the scene quite nicely, dropping in the odd 'caught you there' shock tactic, a couple of Irish 'Deliverance' style backwater characters and a moody almost mournful setting within the mist laden woods and all of this does add an element of foreboding to the whole proceeding. However again it is the final act with the hapless teenagers getting their comeuppance for dabbling in drugs that the film reverts back to the standard run, hide, get your head split in half kind of affair that we've seen all too often in recent times.
Cinematography by Nanu Segal is pretty much standard fare but in saying that the angles and lighting used does add weight to the initial part of the movie. Coupled with a faint yet haunting score by Dario Marianelli adding depth again to the start helping to draw the viewer into the film, and drawing them in with a sense of unforeseen unease. The stable crew of actors perform well enough for what's asked of them; don't be expecting any Brando like performances here. A scene to look out for though is Bluto with a talking cow, incredibly funny.
So in the end we had the possibility of a group of teenagers all of whom have issues of one variety or another straying into unknown territory where the distinction between reality, imagination and hallucination are most certainly blurred. That possibility though was never exploited to its full extent and whilst on the whole Shrooms is an enjoyable modern horror, and certainly better than the plethora of hack and slash from over the water, it's still not as good as it ultimately could have been and that's a great shame.