Paddy Murphy’s second full-length feature The Perished is a nasty little creature film with a mother of a premise (pun intended).
Sarah is a college student who lives a sheltered life with her parents. When she becomes pregnant her mother kicks her out of the house and her boyfriend breaks up with her. Not wanting a child she has an abortion. Still recovering and with nowhere to live her friend David invites her to stay at a vacation home that was once the site of a terrible Magdalene Laundry. The longer she stays the more she becomes convinced the children who died there need a mother and she is their pick.
From the first moment, it is clear this film is intended to make a point. What that point is, will be debated. A shot of a young woman arriving at an airport is overlaid with a brief history of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries and abortion in general in Ireland. The opening scene is serious and stark. It has more in common with a ripped from the headline’s true story than a creature film, The Perished feels like bits and pieces of lots of different types of sub-genres that sometimes war for control. The Laundries or Mother and Baby Centers as they were sometimes called may have started as centers to aid young mothers, but became places of torment and neglect.
It is hard to say what direction Murphy wants to go. Is it a film about the horrors of those places and the restrictive laws in general, or is it a revenge tale told from the aborted child’s perspective? This subject has been addressed before. In fact, Aislinn Clarke’s found-footage indy gem The Devil’s Doorway is an excellent example of the material being mined for horror gold. Murphy’s The Perished has none of the sensitivity Clarke shows and as such, it can sometimes play as just another creature film.
The power dynamic between women and men and the uniquely difficult issues women have to handle daily are fertile grounds for horror. At Panic Fest alone there is The Swerve and Swallow which vividly shows the potential tragedy of the female condition. Brooklyn Horror Film Festival debuted This Is Our Home, a surprisingly thoughtful supernatural film about abortion, regret, and happiness. That film by Omri Dorani is beautifully rendered without being judgmental. It is more about neglectful, destructive men getting their comeuppance than about judging a woman for her choices. The supernatural element of the film is given a light touch. In contrast, Murphy’s The Perished is heavy on effects and statements.
Obvious beats of guilt are borrowed from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I half expected Sarah to begin shouting out damn spot during one scene midway. Regardless of confusing tonal elements, there is a style to be had in this film. Highlights include shot framing and selection that are very effective especially in the beginning and the end. The opening scene is a well-shot mix of the quick, quick slow dance of an exciting hook up at a party. Equal parts hyper-speed electricity and infinitesimally lengthy heightened romance. As with any new romance, everything is more exciting. Cinematographer Barry Fahy is a highlight.
Acting by Courtney McKeon(Sarah), Fiach Kunz(Shane), and Paul Fitgerald(Davet) can often come across as superficial which may be a product more of the script than their skills. Fitzgerald and Kunz often are saddled with trite male themes of homosexuality or toxicity. There problems lack depth or complexity. The women fare better with every woman spewing harsh critique on one another. Shane’s sister Rebecca who plays a huge role late in the film and Sarah’s mother Noelle Clarke both deliver shrill performances that convey their viewpoints.
The Perishing has a hard time deciding if it wants to be a well-designed creature film, “woke” up with womyn’s stories, or a more predictable not all men tale. Murphy paints the men as all very calm and accepting and the women as judgmental and shrewish. If Murphy is trying to say women are our own worst enemy there is an argument there one in which I might even agree, however, most of the film feels more concerned with how men look and are perceived by mixed audiences.
The most successful part of The Perishing is the fantastic creature and sound work. The chittering, gooey monster is disturbing. Especially when it’s revealed what the monster is and what it wants. The lurching creature is chitinous and bony in impossible ways. I wish it would have made an entrance earlier as the creature was one of the best parts of this film.
The Perished is not a perfect film. But it makes an attempt. It wants to have a dialogue and right now at this point in time. Attempting to have a dialogue might be the most important thing.
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As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.