Six young American students take magic mushrooms in the middle of Irish nowhere and nasty stuff happens. That's it in a nutshell, while the plot is simplicity incarnate.

They pitch tents, stash their mobile phones in a safe place so calling someone while they're tripping isn't an option - not a bad way of isolating the characters. They collect their "shrooms", and share stunningly foolish ghost stories about latent Catholic guilty legends, and soon everyone's happily off to sleep. Tara (Lindsey Haun) pops a death's head mushroom in her gob, not knowing its potent psychotropic intensity and deadly qualities. Used by the "ancient Irish druids", they are "a gateway to another dimension", or drive the users insane. "Nobody's ever died from taking 'shrooms before," their guide, Jake, reassures them - so everything should be all right...

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Oh, yes. There's a serial killer stalking everyone, and someone's hidden all the stashed mobile phones. Tara keeps having periodic visions - not unlike Minority Report, but with shrieking eardrum-splitting sound design - of death and dismemberment. Keeping everyone aware of these gory prognostications becomes a full-time job when her companions are a hairline from freaking out or conversing with talking cows. And the drooling natives are never far away either...

The script boasts a huge number of straight-up recycled story elements, lifting wholesale from Sam Raimi's 2000 horror wotsit The Gift, with Session 9's thoroughly decaying and evil mental institution used as backdrop, the inbred natives from Deliverance, and a feeble finale that just screams Switchblade Romance. And I'm sure there are plot holes that the stolen ending doesn't explain. Then again, I'm questioning a movie that just positively begs someone to watch while consuming a large wad of illegal hallucinogens - I should give up asking for sense.

I'm also unsure whether the psychological aspect of our unreliable narrators is a device which induces audience suspicion, or is to be used to trip the viewer up and jerk us around time and time again. After all, everything they - and hence we - experience could easily just be a nasty hallucination, so a reasonable audience member might ask why they should invest themselves in something that is very likely to be unreliable.

Rather than using the idea of psychotropic hallucinogens as a springboard for some clear and fun mindgames, the script decides to undercut our intelligence. Compare this with masterful Britflick The Descent, where the clear characterisation is dealt out on the move, and we understand the motivations and predicaments quickly and easily - simple, stated straight-up and all the more terrifying for it.

The characters - other than Jack Huston's thinly brogued Jake and Lindsey Haun's Tara channelling a frizzed out Kirsten Dunst - do not make any impression other than as meat for the grinder.

Considering this lazy scripting from Pearse Elliot (who made an appearance pre-screening at EIFF 2007's midnight show, although notably not post), it's almost a miracle that the movie holds together. It's all credit to director Paddy Breathnach that the film is often truly scary, and does at least try to make the drug-induced seizure or tripping moments somewhat cinematically interesting.

Indeed, there's nothing disgusting in Shrooms, unlike a recent fascination with torture porn - but the film's scares work! I'm unsure whether to give a good rating since the scares are very effective, if repetitive, or a bad rating since there is no pleasure involved on any level. We're having all the effects of a bad trip, and none of the pleasures of a good trip. It's cattle-prod cinema at its most concentrated.

Not my cup of tea - pun intended.

Reviewed on: 23 Nov 2007
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A trip too far...
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Director: Paddy Breathnach

Writer: Pearse Elliott

Starring: Lindsey Haun, Jack Huston, Max Kasch, Maya Hazen, Alice Greczyn, Don Wycherley, Sean McGinley, Robert Hoffman

Year: 2006

Runtime: 86 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Ireland

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