Seán Crosson ventures out among yonder hills to find Tom Cosgrove’s horror film.
Horror has been one of the most popular genres for Irish directors over the past twenty years. It has provided filmmakers with a recognisable and popular international film form that (in its most imaginative manifestations) could actually benefit from creative use of scarce resources contributing to horror’s popularity among low-budget film producers. Hillwalkers is such a low budget production, written, directed and produced by TU Dublin film lecturer Tom Cosgrove and crewed by students (past and present) of the BA Media Arts degree in the university. The film was produced partly as a response to the recent lockdowns, mostly shot outdoors in the Dublin Mountains, often in appalling weather conditions, with cast and crew camping overnight to safeguard the remote mountain set. Despite (or perhaps partly because of) these challenging, low-budget and non-professional origins (including its cast) the film provides a largely convincingly realised narrative concerning hillwalkers in the Dublin mountains who encounter a group of murderous locals.
Hillwalkers begins with the striking image of a terrified young woman in a red dress attempting to escape from unknown assailants in a desolate wasteland. This opening sequence cues the audience to the dystopian narrative that follows as we encounter the main protagonists, a group of excited hillwalkers – two men and three women – setting out on a charity walk through the mountains. One of the group (Miriam (Aoife Honohan)) has recently had a battle with cancer (now in remission), providing the inspiration for the walk. As the walk progresses, we also learn that Miriam wants to begin trying for a baby with her more hesitant partner Ray (Eoin O’Sullivan), an ongoing subject of discussion (if discreetly) between several members of the group. It is dialogue sequences such as these that allow Cosgrove to flesh out and distinguish characters that are in other respects familiar figures within the broader horror genre. While on their walk, Ray gets injured and without phone coverage and in an attempt to get back more quickly to the car and seek help, the walkers decide to take a short cut through a forested area, despite many warnings of ‘No Trespassers’ and ‘Keep Out’. Just one of the group – Lisa (Elise Brennan) who seems the more experienced walker – suspects that great danger lies ahead and takes an alternative route to the car. There is some predictability here to what will happen once the remainder of the group enters the forest, and they eventually encounter the forest’s seeming owners (local farming brothers Tadhg (Michael Cloke) and Neil (Gerry O’Brien), and their unhinged nephew Steevy (Mark Agar)) who first offer to assist Ray and the others before their darker deranged interests are revealed.
This is overall an impressive production, particularly given the circumstances of its realisation. Visually, the film features fluid and sophisticated cinematography by DOP Ruairi O hOisin, including stunning drone shots of the Dublin Mountains, and effectively realised action sequences. The acting performances are also generally convincing, particularly Mark Agar as the leery and demented psychopath Steevy. As a work that emerged from the forced necessities of lockdown and was perhaps also partly informed by the broader anxieties of that period, Hillwalkers succeeds in delivering a genuinely unsettling experience that horror enthusiasts in particular are likely to appreciate.
Hillwalkers screened on 21st July 2021 at the Galway Film Fleadh 2021.