I know this dude who had his fair share of psychedelic experiences back in the late '80s to early '90s. We used to talk about that stuff a lot, but not enough I guess, because he never told me that the real 'heads' all go to Ireland for the best illegal mushroom trips. At least that's what I've learned from Shrooms, a minimally passable little shocker that employs the title fungi for all manner of trippy scares. Benefiting largely from some good marketing, Shrooms may have you thinking fondly of tracers-gone-by while you muddle through a mixed-bag of haphazard scares, but from a connoisseur's standpoint it's not exactly worth asking your dealer about.
From the unintentionally funny (but alluring nonetheless) blurb calling Shrooms 'Blair Witch on acid' to the super-cool DVD cover art, this movie is poised to lure in plenty of nasty-thrill seekers. A standardized group of young adults (jock, stoner, bitchy girlfriends and single white female) meet SWF Tara's (Lindsey Haun) e-crush Jake (Jack Huston) in Ireland for a camping trip with the emphasis on 'trip.' Jake's expertise in the magic mushrooms includes some detailed campfire ghost stories and knowledge of a particular mushroom that legendarily sends eaters into either prophetic berserker rages or death. Dang it, while some of the kids drink the proper mushroom tea, one of them eats that wrong kind of mushroom. With everyone in peril from overindulgence and freaky phantoms, soon all hell breaks loose.
While Shrooms brews up a decent amount of tension compared to plenty of other modern horror crud, and intermittently does a nice job of evoking at least the visual effects of psilocybin (so I'm told) it results in an only moderately scary hodgepodge of horror movie tropes strung together by confusing and flashy editing. Listen closely to Jake's ghost story about the nearby abandoned asylum, because you'll need it to figure out which phantom dashing about the nighttime woods is which. Is the tall hooded guy with the axe the wolf-boy or the punisher? What about the inbred hicks living in the shed? How about that talking cow? Numerous cascading stories dimly illuminated by stylish dreams awash in jump cuts may partially mimic the disorientation drug-using campers experience, but it just confuses those of us trying to follow the movie.
About the best thing Shrooms has going for it is atmosphere. The Irish countryside is beautiful and frightening at night, with endless rows of spindly trees fading in the distance while shielding any number of axe-wielding maniacs (real or imagined) as they dart about. Judicious use of digital trickery makes our campers' tripping come to queasy life while partially covering for the rambling, incoherent proceedings, and stoner Troy (Max Kasch) adds some comforting humor and realism, but it all just points out that Shrooms squanders serious potential on an unsatisfying, hard to follow mess.
When our heroes end up running about inside the deserted asylum, (someone ought to specialize in renting deserted asylums to horror filmmakers) beset by feral kids, boys wearing canvas bags on their heads, tall stabby dudes with axes and who knows who else, you'll be wondering if you're watching an original movie or a collection of trailers for other horror movies. Writer Pearse Elliot and director Paddy Breathnach stir up nice atmosphere in service of a cool concept, but instead of terrifying paranoia, we're handed a confused and confusing patchwork of Westernized J-horror gimmicks more aggravating than frightening.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation looks really good in a gritty Saving Private Ryan kind of way, with no glaring compression artifacts, film grain or damage to get in the way of the simple and cleverly employed 'psychedelic' treatments. Dream sequences use black-and-white filming and grain to artistic effect, and otherwise colors are in the washed-out, bluish side of the spectrum, also for artistic effect. Overall it's a great looking movie.
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo are used nicely to create an enveloping, trippy atmosphere. Nicely ominous creep-out music with some healthy bass-end groans, tinkling keys and swishes and creaks amongst the pines at least make good use of their potential, even if the movie doesn't. Dialog is mixed well with the music and other soundtrack elements, it's perfectly audible and recorded well.
Scene Selections and Spanish Subtitles represent the conservative side of the extras palette. A Commentary Track with director Paddy Breathnach, producer Paddy McDonald and writer Pearse Elliot beguiles with some lovely brogues (Mr. Elliot's especially). The boys lapse into silence with some frequency and talk mostly about the story and what they were attempting to do onscreen in order to move that story along. Deleted Scenes run with time-code onscreen for over five minutes, and run mainly along the lines of character development. Ten minutes of Alternate Scenes include some extra gore and lengthened scenes of terror/mushroom-eating. Four-plus minutes of Alternate Endings feature two different versions that in their corniness were better left on the floor. One paltry minute of Bloopers contains one funny/gross blooper and one stupid blooper.
With a great druggy concept and atmosphere to spare, Shrooms should incite paranoia inducing terror, or terror inducing paranoia. But when a stock group of characters ends up running about the woods beset by multiple clichéd attackers, all the MTV quick-cut editing and portentous dream-sequences in the world can't seem to create real, satisfying scares. Instead of evil, clear-drinking mushroom tea, we get confusing muddied waters with a twist ending that annoys. Atmosphere lovers with low expectations will get some small, dreadful pleasures if they Rent It, but in the end this is one bum trip.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com