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.