Altered Images: Shrooms (2007) and Irish Cinema

By Flynn, Roddy | Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

Altered Images: Shrooms (2007) and Irish Cinema


Flynn, Roddy, Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies


From a textual perspective Shrooms offers limited possibilities for analysis. It is a genre film, and a banal one at that even if efficiently constructed. It follows a more or less entirely American cast oversexed youths (an anonymous crew of graduates from US television drama that --piquantly--features John Huston's grandson Jack) who travel ("trip") to a forest park somewhere in Southern Ireland to take magic mushrooms. They are chaperoned by slumming gentry: Jake (Huston) who primes them for consuming the fungi with stories of a now-derelict industrial school and the psychotic cleric who used to run it. Under the influence of the 'shrooms' and increasingly unable to distinguish reality from imagination, the 'trippers' become convinced that they are being watched by the deranged spirit of the cleric and--as the genre demands--meet their grisly ends one by one.

If pressed, one could possibly construct a hypothesis on the manner in which the script mobilizes the spectre of industrial schools--now universally understood (in Ireland, at any rate) as sites of irredeemable evil for thousands of young men and women. To do so however would not merely credit the script with depths that are entirely absent but would crucially miss the point that Shrooms seems expressly designed to evade any local references that might confuse overseas audiences.

Thus, Shrooms is interesting for what it suggests about the current direction of Irish cinema. For all the critical success of Once and Garage, 2007 was not a good year for the indigenous industry. This was most overtly signaled by the February 2008 Irish Film and Television Awards which included Becoming Jane, in the nominations for Best Irish Film. This despite the fact that Becoming Jane is a film about Jane Austen, is set in England, features leading cast members exclusively drawn from the UK and US cast, an English writer and director and was largely crewed by UK Heads of Departments. (1) The sole basis for that film's inclusion amongst the nominees was that it was shot here and was part-funded by the Irish Film Board (although the bulk of the money came from the BBC and UK Film Council so even finance wasn't a clincher). The fact that Shrooms itself was nominated in the same category gives one some sense of how little there has been to enthuse about.

But Shrooms (along with Becoming Jane) is indicative of an increasingly pragmatic/cynical/ desperate (delete as you consider applicable) outlook not just on the part of Irish film-makers but also on the part of those institutions which support audiovisual production on the island of Ireland. Both the Irish Film Board and the Northern Ireland Film Commission put funding into the Treasure Films production along with private finance from Nordisk and Ingenious Media.

Irish filmmakers are by no means alone in embracing this orientation: after four decades of work at the heart of the German film industry, 2007 saw Werner Herzog make his first Hollywood-financed film albeit the Christian Bale-starring Rescue Dawn was a fictionalized version of his earlier German documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Similarly by the time you read this Michael Haneke--whose career to date has seemed like a lengthy critique of mainstream (i.e. Hollywood) cinema--will see his shot-by-shot US remake of his 1997 film Funny Games arrive at your local multiplex courtesy of Warner Brothers. Since the 1920s Hollywood has deliberately hoovered up talent from other national film industries in a bid to add a touch of the exotic to the marketing of output. And, to draw an analogy from physics, Hollywood remains a cinematic singularity today: light striking celluloid cannot escape its pull.

Indeed, one doesn't need to be directly employed by a Hollywood major to see this influence at work. When Jim Sheridan accounts for the success of My Left Foot in terms of its being a universal story, one can't help suspecting that he was really describing it as a story that happily for Sheridan's subsequent career--could "play" in front of US audiences. …

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