THE PERISHED, the latest horror film from Irish writer/director Paddy Murphy, is not an easy film to watch. That’s not to say it isn’t a good film, it’s a great one in fact—but the subject matter reaches well beyond the confines of our own imaginations and into the real world we live in itself. The subject I’m speaking of is abortion, and it’s a topic that is particularly controversial to Murphy’s home nation of Ireland. Given that the country’s history is steeped in deeply-rooted religious tradition, before the first frames of the film have even appeared on screen, the table is already set for a feast of tension. And what better way to dissect a difficult topic than through the magic of genre storytelling? This notion is something Murphy clearly has a solid grasp of, as he directs his actors and camera with bold conviction. The line between drama and horror is frequently blurred, and the result is a horror film which forces you to confront the terrors of our modern reality.
The film tells the story of a young woman named Sarah (Courtney McKeon), who is accidentally impregnated by her boyfriend Shane (Fiach Kunz). Upon discovering she’s pregnant, Sarah panics, and considers her options. Fearing the wrath of her overtly traditional mother, Sarah decides to have an abortion, and keep the pregnancy a secret from everyone but her best friend Davet (Paul Fitzgerald). This plan backfires greatly when Sarah’s mother discovers that she’s had the abortion, and banishes her from their home. Having also been dumped by her boyfriend, Sarah decides she needs to retreat to an old parochial house with Davet to try and recover from all her trauma. Unbeknownst to her, the old house sits atop a massive baby gravesite, and as Sarah’s emotions begin to toy with her mind, she begins to see ghastly visions of the undead children.
In the second act of the film, Murphy utilizes a brilliant blend of psychological horror, and stunning practical effects. The traditional scares are brief, but effective, and work to compliment the very real horror of what Sarah is going through. Most of the atmospheric dread that is slowly built throughout the film is rooted in the psychological trauma that comes with such a thing as abortion. Murphy, together with Courtney McKeon’s performance tragically capture the swath of emotions suffocating Sarah as she wars with herself over her decision. It is a grief and guilt that could only be imagined by those who have experienced it. The societal pressures, the stigma, the judgement—above all the horrific imagery the film contains, it is these elements that evoke the most dread and despair.
There are easily connectable dots between THE PERISHED and the work of filmmakers such as John Carpenter, and Wes Craven. Murphy is careful to address multiple perspectives throughout the film. In this way, the film never crosses over into the realm of propaganda, and comes out a stronger film for doing so. Above all other emotions Murphy reveals that a common thread between each character’s motivations is fear—fear of shame, fear of judgment, fear of denial. When the supernatural elements are removed from the story what you’re left with is a story about fear, and what it does to people. It’s very much a film about removing stigma, and looking at the real humans that are impacted by abortion, and the immense pressure and weight placed upon their shoulders.
I don’t want to delve into the film’s final act because I strongly feel this is an indie title that needs to be seen to be understood. Revealing all of the film’s secrets would be irresponsible for me to do, after the cast and crew behind this film clearly worked so passionately at creating a piece of entertainment that is meant to move its audience. I’ve always said genre films are at their best when they have something to say, and THE PERISHED is a refreshing film in that regard. It’s a film that challenges its audience to open their hearts and their minds, and to catch a glimpse of the complicated storm of thoughts and feelings surrounding such a controversial topic. It handles its subject matter with grace and respect, and is indicative of a filmmaker who has more than done his share of research. So no, there is nothing easy about watching THE PERISHED, but most of the best genre films are difficult to watch. This is a small indie film that makes you feel and think, and stands tall against a lot of the mindless drivel being spat out by Hollywood today. I can’t recommend it enough.