Richard Drumm enters the woods of Lorcan Finnegan’s Without Name, which screened at Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.
Set mainly in and around the titular woods of the name-lacking variety, Without Name follows Eric (Alan McKenna), a surveyor sent to evaluate said stretch of land on the quiet for a shady developer type. Noting an increased detachment at home from his wife and child, not to mention an overall mood of technology taking over his life, Eric heads into the wild. While nominally there for work, he’s also trying to escape his worries and is looking forward to some isolated alone time with his mistress, Olivia (the ever reliable Niamh Algar), who’s assisting him with the survey.
Things quickly begin to turn strange; apparitions in the foggy wood, tales of madness regarding the previous tenant of the cottage (whose manuscript Eric’s been reading and slowly letting creep into his psyche) and the obligatory unnerving locals, in this case one with a penchant for substances of the mind-altering variety. The fog thickens, paranoia grows and tensions rise as Eric seems set to repeat the descent into catatonia that befell the previous inhabitant of the cottage. Is it all in his (increasingly drug-addled) mind or is there something sinister afoot?
Despite very much being marketed as a horror, the film itself is more of a psychological thriller; big on mood-building but unconcerned with delivering any real scares. Its commitment to this atmosphere-crafting is quite laudable given that it avoids the temptation to cash in on a lazy jump-scare during any of its quieter moments. The pacing is intentionally slow; reflective of the overall ’70s-throwback feel it has both tonally and in terms of how it was shot; with its heavy use of fog machines and other in-camera effects for the horror elements. There’s also a nice attempt at some Lynchian abstract creepiness with the occasional extended shot slowly zooming in on the woods while the soundscape gets increasing claustrophobic with the noise of wind and creaking trees accompanied with droning score. Said score is one of the highlights, doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the atmosphere and effectively externalising Eric’s gradual breakdown, at least until the visuals can take over once the drugs get involved.
There’s an interesting idea brought in early on, implying a sort of ‘Silent Hill’-esque scenario at play whereby the woods don’t exist as a fixed location but rather have multiple plains that can shift around you without you realising, at least until people start disappearing in front of you or you start seeing your own body and creepy shadow men. It’s a neat idea that does get a little more fleshed out in the somewhat abrupt finale but on the whole feels slightly wasted.
While, again, I’m willing to praise to high heaven any film that doesn’t rely on jump scares, it is a bit of an issue that nothing of note really happens for the first two thirds of the film when that time could have been better used exploring the spatial-fluidity, perhaps having Eric getting lost in it or having more sinister encounters with the shadow-being which very occasionally stalks him. This is far from a film-ruining problem but it is disappointing given the often underutilised potential for creepiness such geographical manipulation brings.
Otherwise the film performs well. There’s a definite attention to detail and care put into the sound design and mix, while the overall production is well shot and makes great use of the location. The actors also acquit themselves well; especially the believable chemistry between the two leads, which is all the more impressive given the relatively sparse amount of screen time McKenna and Algar actually share. The decision to eschew CGI in favour of simpler in-camera effects – along with giving it that nice ’70s vibe – means this film will likely age far more gracefully than a lot of modern low-budget horrors (and indeed, many “low-budget” horrors with significantly higher budgets that this).
If you’re well-versed in horror, there’s not a huge amount here that could surprise you but there is at least very little that would annoy you. A valiant attempt at putting atmosphere ahead of cheap scares that could have benefited from more fully-realising its concepts but which remains an engaging watch all the same.
Without Name screened on Saturday, 18th February 2017 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.