Without Name. 2016. Directed by Lorcan Finnegan. Screenplay by Garret Shanley.
Starring Alan McKenna, Niamh Algar, James Browne, Morgan C. Jones, Brandon Maher, & Olga Wehrly.
Irish Film Board/Lovely Productions
93 minutes. Not Rated.
A couple years ago I saw a short called Foxes on Google Play, scooping it up. The poster felt similar to something I would’ve seen as a kid around Halloween. But it was more than just a short bit of horror. It was an experience. The imagery director Lorcan Finnegan pulls out of the brief film is stunning. So, I knew immediately his dreamy-type directing was my brand.
Foxes was a contained piece. Not only in the sense of its actual runtime, its implications and meaning felt of a personal nature. Finnegan’s latest film, his debut feature Without Name, is focused above all on a single character. Yet it feels grandiose, in a way that doesn’t feel pretentious, that speaks to something universal rather than personal. Finnegan has a keen sense of how to interlace visuals and the aural spectrum, a one-two punch of imagery that draws you in while the sound design in lieu of a conventional score unnerves the senses below the surface.
In Foxes it was evident, and Without Name proves he’s a unique filmmaker bringing his own style to the horror genre.
Part of the story feels epistolary, in that our main character Eric (Alan McKenna) finds this text by William Devoy called Knowledge of Trees, other books on the shelves sort of unnoticed such as Occult Defence among more titles. It’s got the feel of a classic horror story in the Gothic vein from the start.
Aiding the storytelling is Finnegan’s use of imagery. He makes the forest haunt you before anything actually sinister begins. There’s an ever present sense of isolation. Moreover, the forest becomes a character alongside the protagonist. In a way the forest is the story’s antagonist. The screenplay by Garret Shanley evokes a sense of wonder about the natural world, which Finnegan plays with, using the headspace of Eric to really hammer home the idea of the natural world – here, the woods in particular – as a truly living, breathing, feeling thing. That’s what starts our journey inward, through the forest and his mind.
As someone who’s used a “heap ‘a mushrooms” in his heyday, I’m partial to films that recreate the experience, or at least use it in as part of the plot. The sound design works wonders in this sequence, as the voices and the other sounds fade from one side to the other, going all around, the light playing tricks. Truly like a mushroom trip. Finnegan and Shanley have both taken them, I’m convinced. There’s even a perfect coming down scene in the morning, feeling so genuine to the actual experience. Marvellous work. Likewise, it deepens the psychological aspects of the horror at play.
I want to draw a line between the ecological pieces of the story and the personal story of Eric, especially the fact that he’s cheating on his wife and mistreating her. He’s sent out to survey the land in a mysterious forest, likely for a contractor to come in and bend it to commercial, capitalist use. Even just his gear planting into the ground is treated in horror imagery, as if they’re knives stabbing the soil, the sounds making it feel as if the Earth itself is being injured.
The big relationship between the two halves of the story’s ideas is connected by Devoy’s text on trees, about the connectivity of humans and nature, that we are one and the same. “This is Eden,” one of his writings says, elaborating on a space and time where nature were more intertwined, a place that was “robbed from us.” There’s a parallel joining the idea of Eric’s philandering and adultery, the treatment of his wife, with how mankind treats Mother Earth. Within his relationship to women, his inability to communicate, is the same inability man – as a whole gender – has communicating with the Earth. It all joins together as one in how the forest reveals Eric to himself gradually. Just as Eric reaps what he sows in his marriage – loneliness, desolation – so does man reap what he sows by mistreating the forest, the trees, the soil, so on; only a desolate, lonely future ahead.
There’s a uniquely satisfying aspect to Without Name, even if it’s quite slow burning. Finnegan draws out the horror of the natural world, taking us into a deep madness. Although I do feel there’s a definite ecological perspective in here, I don’t think the story or the director are pushing to make it a message.
If you take this feature in combination with the earlier short Foxes, there’s a way in which Finnegan seems to view nature that’s very conscious of humanity’s loss of natural self, of how nature is altered and affected by humans. Or maybe he just likes the images of nature. That’s the beauty of art, the subjectivity of it all.
Either way I know, more than even before, I look forward to his next project. He’s a fascinating talent with compelling perspective, no matter how you cut it. Maybe this one’s not for everybody. If you’re willing to take a strange, semi-psychedelic journey into a man’s troubling mind, then Without Name is the ticket.