The Perished


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Perished
"Not a great film, but more nuanced than it has been given credit for." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

A film about a young woman who has an abortion and is subsequently haunted by the souls of unborn babies might sound off-putting to most people - a crude approach to a sensitive subject and, depending on where you stand on the issue, either stating the obvious or crude propaganda. That's how The Perished has been billed, to its detriment, but the reality is more complex. It's still not a great film, but it's more nuanced than it has been given credit for.

Courtney McKeon is on good form as Sarah, the young woman at the centre of the tale. She used condoms with boyfriend Shane (Fiach Kunz) but got unlucky. When she tries to tell Shane he interrupts her before she can get to the point, telling her that he thinks they ought to take a break from their relationship. Her strictly religious mother Elaine (Noelle Clarke) disowns her. She's left with a stark choice: terminate the pregnancy and face condemnation or raise the child as a single mother and face condemnation. She's essentially outcast from traditional Irish society for being female and in possession of a sex drive.

Fortunately, not everyone around is a traditionalist. Her father Richard (Conor Lambert) helps her travel to England to get medical help so at least she doesn't face the dangers of a backstreet procedure. Her best friend Davet (Paul Fitzgerald), who has experienced social stigma himself due to being gay, takes her to his family's summer home to recover. The trouble is, said summer home is on the site of a former mother and baby home - the places where people in Sarah's position were imprisoned just a couple of decades previously, used by the Church as forced labour. Locally, the place had a reputation - it's implied that it's among the many where the remains of neglected or directly murdered infants were found. There's a presence there. Sarah begins to have vivid dreams involving foetuses, rape and forced pregnancy. Is it a manifestation of guilt, or is something else going on?

The film isn't sure what it wants to be. it has the makings of a good drama, with capable actors let down by poor editing and director Paddy Murphy's inexperience. In the final third it takes a lurch into body horror, with passable effect work, and creature feature territory, with daft rubber-suited monster which makes a mockery of the good work that has gone before. There are some smart touches, however. McKeon's feelings about her pregnancy are well handled, showing us how terrifying the situation is to her and how desperately she needs to get back in control of her life. The counterproductive nature of her mother's stance is clear. And when Sarah is haunted by the sounds of babies crying, Shane hears them too, implying that he bears a share of responsibility for the action that Sarah felt it necessary to take.

This is far from being a deep examination of issues around abortion but it does one thing that most debates don't, and that's to remind us that it's something that affects real people who are trying, for the most part, to make the best decisions they can. There won't be many viewers who fail to empathise with Sarah, regardless of their politics. Minor characters remind us that Ireland has come a long way in recent years. There is room now for real conversations, not the angry interchanges of the past.

Into this context, Murphy's monster blunders, embodying the leftover horrors of a different age. There's a sense that the protagonists risk being dragged back into the past. As so often, Ireland's history threatens to overwhelm its future prospects. Is there still room for hope? Perhaps - but Murphy, retreating into soap opera whenever he runs out of ideas, is not the one to point the way.

Reviewed on: 30 Sep 2020
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The Perished packshot
Dealing with a pregnancy termination in Ireland has been hard for Sarah Dekker. Shunned by her religious zealot family and unforgiving boyfriend, she travels to a friend’s country house to recover. But unbeknownst to her, it sits atop a mass grave of unwanted babies and their lost, confused sprits want to be reborn.

Director: Paddy Murphy

Writer: Paddy Murphy

Starring: Courtney McKeon, Fiach Kunz, Paul Fitzgerald, Noelle Clarke

Year: 2019

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Ireland


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