If I'd taken a trip to Ireland when I was in college, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have wasted time traipsing around local forests looking for hallucinogenic mushrooms. Granted, sitting down for an episode of ‘Weeds’ is as close as I’ve ever come to experimenting with drugs, but I think my first visit to another country would entail far more interesting things than altering my perception of reality. However, if you’re the sort of guy who wouldn’t hesitate to jump on a bus and peruse the countryside for lickable toads and ingestible fungi, then ‘Shrooms’ is the horror movie for you.
Madly mixing elements of Japanese horror into the teen slasher subgenre, ‘Shrooms’ tells the tenuous tale of five American students -- a naïve, lovelorn girl named Tara (Lindsey Haun); a temperamental jockstrap of a jock named Bluto (Robert Hoffman); a whiny, shallow hot-chick named Lisa (Maya Hazen); a dull-witted stoner named Troy (Max Kasch); and a free-spirited hippie named Holly (Alice Geczyn) -- who visit their friend Jake (Jack Huston) while visiting Ireland. A local connoisseur of hallucinogenic mushrooms, Jake decides to lead his pals on a scavenger hunt of sorts in a nearby deserted forest which, inevitably, goes terribly wrong. When Tara inadvertently eats a rare and extremely dangerous shroom, she begins to see what she believes is the future. Struggling to decipher her visions while maintaining her sanity, Tara races to convince her friends that a malevolent, supernatural evil is trying to pick them off one by one.
Director Paddy Breathnach (who consequently has the best Irish name ever) deserves a hearty handshake for taking a miniscule budget and producing a flick that looks far more expensive than it actually was. Not to overstate the quality of the film’s production values, but I was genuinely surprised that ‘Shrooms’ rarely looked like a straight-to-video release. To my relief, Breathnach managed to amass a diverse and talented cast, a young but seasoned crew, and a DoP and editor that clearly know how to assemble an effective genre pic. Add to that a screenplay lined with solid scares, abundant plot twists, and plenty of unpredictable character developments, and you almost have something resembling an overlooked genre gem.
Alas, Breathnach’s film is better in theory than in execution. Writer Pearse Elliott’s script is all over the place -- his humor falls flat on more than one occasion (the absurd appearance of a talking cow for starters), his pacing suddenly accelerates after a lengthy and bewildering buildup, and his characters are too unlikeable for their own good (here’s looking at Bluto, Troy, and Lisa). Don’t get me wrong, it’s clear Pearse and Breathnach are trying to satirize various subgenres of horror, but their mimicry and subsequent reverence of notable classics often engage the gut without adding a follow-up shot to the intellect. While I had hoped ‘Shrooms’ would fulfill its filmmakers’ ambitions, the final product collapsed under the weight of several extraneous subplots, a back-story that was rendered inert by a leftfield denouement, and several unnecessary interpersonal conflicts that weren’t fleshed out or resolved.
Ultimately, ‘Shrooms’ is a decent horror flick that fails to properly reinvent its particular subgenres or satirize its influences. Casual fans will probably be more forgiving of the film’s spotty humor, sprawling plotlines, and one-note characters, but I was continually distracted by a screenplay that needed another round of revisions. Like most horror, ‘Shrooms’ will easily appeal to some and strike others as a complete waste of time. Give the domestic DVD a rent and see what you think.
(Note the version of ‘Shrooms’ included on this UK import is the 88-minute “Unseen Edition.” It does not include the 84-minute theatrical cut available on domestic DVD.)
This import edition of ’Shrooms’ features a technically proficient 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that renders the dense foliage and rickety trees of the forest with ease. The film’s palette is intentionally drab but still benefits from the stability and vibrancy of its high-def presentation. In fact, contrast is strong, blacks are resolved in all but a few shots, and whites didn’t strike me as being too hot, even in scenes flushed with bright light. Better still, detail is spot on -- if I were so inclined, I could almost count every leaf, hair, and stitch that pops up on the screen. While I did encounter some minor shimmering in long shots of the forest floor (a la the earliest scenes in ‘The Descent’), I found that it rarely detracted from the three-dimensionality of the wooded environments. To top it all off, I didn’t detect any artifacting, inadvertent noise, or edge enhancement.
Unfortunately, scenes that involve Tara’s hallucinations and premonitions are over-the-top and distracting. CG enhancements look more disjointed than they do on the domestic DVD, grain swarms furiously over the top of overblown shots, and distortion effects lead to errant softness and blurriness. Still, one can hardly fault the technical transfer when such scenes (ugly as they are in high definition) have been reproduced to a fault. All in all, ‘Shrooms’ doesn’t pack the visual punch that will allow it to stand out from the best transfers on the market, but I doubt it’ll look much better when it’s released in the States.
While the UK import of ’Shrooms’ may not sound as impressive as it could if it had a properly mastered lossless audio track, it still includes a competent Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix that does a fine job enhancing the film’s ambient atmosphere and unsettling imagery. As it stands, dialogue is crisp and well prioritized, pans are smooth and transparent, and directionality is precise enough to add a few solid sonic scares to the experience. While notable LFE-support is generally restricted to chases and kills, the mix employs the rear speakers to transform the shroom-infested forest into a character all its own -- branches crack with intent, leaves rustle, and the wind moves through the brush to strengthen the immersive properties of the surround field. Sure, it didn’t quite manage to convince me I was actually standing in an Irish woodland, but the channels work hand in hand to offer fans an upgrade from its domestic DVD counterpart.
Even so, I was continually bothered by the track’s inconsistency. As good as the forest sounds at times, the soundfield is too front-heavy during conversational scenes to really stand out from its genre brethren. Add to that a few scenes in which sound unnaturally erupts from every channel (presumably to increase the odds you’ll jump in your seat), and you have a track that’s overwhelming one moment and underwhelming the next. In the end, ‘Shrooms’ sounds pretty good as far as standard high-def audio goes, but you may want to wait and see if it earns a DTS HD Master Audio track when it’s released in the states.
This import edition of ’Shrooms’ includes a decent selection of extras from the UK DVD (which includes a group of interviews and a featurette that aren’t on Magnolia Picture’s domestic DVD). Unfortunately, all of the video content on the disc is presented in standard definition.
’Shrooms’ is a hit-or-miss amalgamation of Japanese horror and the teen-slasher subgenre that falls flat more often than not. Thankfully, this UK import is a bit more reliable. It features an excellent video transfer, a reasonably proficient Dolby Digital audio track, and a well-rounded collection of supplements (some of which don’t appear on the region 1 DVD). However, once ‘Shrooms’ gets a domestic release, it’ll most likely include a lossless audio track and additional content. Fans of the film may feel they’re getting their money’s worth with this import, but I would wait until a domestic Blu-ray edition is announced before making a final decision.
Thanks to Nate Boss ("n8boss87" to anyone on the message boards) for supplying this disc for review!