Liam Hanlon sinks his teeth into Chris Baugh’s comedy horror.
The legend of Dracula has left its bite mark across generations of readers/cinemagoers and we are accustomed to the myth and how to defend ourselves against vampiric beings, should we ever meet one, thanks to these media representations and Bram Stoker’s novel. A wooden stake through the heart, perhaps? Or is it sunlight? Garlic? Well, there’s a new addition to this expansive canon of vampiric media representations with Boys From County Hell, which may offer more vampire tips.
Boys From County Hell (written and directed by Chris Baugh) takes us to Six Mile Hill, a Northern Irish town with a lack of economic activity and interest apart from GAA matches and drinks in the local pub. Yet, this town attracts some tourist attention, as it is legend that Bram Stoker was inspired to write Dracula after visiting Six Mile Hill and being regaled about the notorious Irish vampire Abhartach, whose resting place is believed to be under a cairn in a nearby field.
Long after Stoker’s visit, we meet friends Eugene and William drinking in the local pub, which is aptly named ‘The Stoker’. Eugene (Jack Rowan) is an idle construction worker now coerced by his father to work on a new bypass in a field belonging to William’s family. William (Fra Fee) is the local GAA starlet, with loftier ambitions, and reveals to Eugene one night that he is emigrating to Australia, as his family will be forced to leave their property once construction begins. Whilst drunkenly walking in the field with its residing cairn, Eugene reveals that his father’s company is building the bypass and William and Eugene begin fighting until they interfere with the cairn in the process. Construction soon begins on the site and the cairn is removed. Strange happenings occur on the construction site and the legend of Abhartach may have awoken from its slumber to terrorise Six Mile Hill once more.
Narratively, the expected elements of any horror/thriller film are here and Boys From County Hell follows such genre templates and the ‘one night to save the world’ aspect. Thankfully, the film is prevented from sagging, due to suspense included throughout, and it’s a credit to its direction and script. The legend of Abhartach, for the most part, remains a legend and an unseen vampiric force significantly increases the fear factor. The scene locations also ramp up the tension with claustrophobic indoor settings and the atmospheric Irish landscape itself (which is chillingly captured by cinematographer Ryan Kernaghan). Alone, a cairn in a field is not fearsome, but with an enveloping misty Irish hillside and landscape, the intimidation rises.
Boys From County Hell functions as a horror/thriller/supernatural film but it also includes plenty of humour. The comedic elements, on paper, may read as being tonally unbalanced, yet they easily work on screen. With characters such as Claire (Derry Girls’s Louisa Harland), Francie (Nigel O’Neill) and SP (Michael Hough), the suspense is aided by these characters and their respective comedic offerings. Jack Rowan is an adept leading character and his arc is worthwhile in seeing him navigate life in Six Mile Hill with little prospects, emigration, and a reluctant father. Baugh’s script operates efficiently in weaving issues surrounding emigration and insular small town living with tales of Abhartach and unmoveable cairns. There are contemporary socio-political themes here that do not feel out of place in a ‘vampire film’.
Yes, there are influences from 28 Weeks Later, The Walking Dead, and also Shaun of the Dead, but Boys From County Hell uses these to its advantage, as well as a meta narrative about vampires and means of their disposal. For a film that could easily be buried under the weight of its own cairn, and a plethora of vampire media competition, Boys From County Hell achieves an unlikely tonal balance with ease and something you should not be frightened to see.