‘The folklore lends itself’: Ireland’s horror films find mainstream success | Ireland
A century after Bram Stoker introduced Dracula to the world, Irish storytellers are once again summoning vampires – as well as zombies, ghosts, changelings and grisly, mysterious diseases – and this time to the big screen.
Young film directors are channeling Ireland’s dark folklore and contemporary social ills into a wave of horror films that are finding mainstream audiences abroad.
The country’s small film industry has made 20 horror films in the past six years, with two more due to hit theaters in the fall. The output ranges from slashers and horror comedies to psychological thrillers with supernatural elements.
Four of the 11 films shown in frightfest Festivals in Glasgow earlier this year were made in Ireland and Northern Ireland. US network TBS, part of Warner Bros, is turning a 2019 film, Extra Ordinary, into a TV series.
You’re Not My Mother, which took second place in an audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival, recently landed on Netflix.
“Irish folklore is particularly dark and lends itself to horror,” said the film’s writer-director Kate Dolan, 31. “Not a lot of happy endings — a lot of people are drawn to their doom.”
Her debut film, which cost €400,000 (£338,576), tells the story of a bullied teenager in a Dublin suburb who is alarmed by her mother’s transformation and alludes to supernatural causes, mental illness and social alienation. The New York Times called it impressive, skin crawlingdeeply metaphorical and genuinely disturbing.
Dolan grew up in Dublin listening to her grandmothers’ stories of changelings, diseases and curses, leading her to wonder about the origin and power of such beliefs. “Growing up in a row of row houses, the idea that something could happen there and you’d be as isolated as you would be in a cabin in the woods with no one helping you – I think that was even more frightening.”
Dolan is currently writing screenplays for two LGBTQ-themed horror films.
Hollywood has taken note of Ireland’s emerging talent. Lee Cronin, who made his name with the 2019 chiller The Hole in the Ground set in rural Ireland, is directing the upcoming Evil Dead Rise, the latest installment in the Evil Dead franchise.
The ability to go big on small budgets and tap into ancient and contemporary Irish fears has appalled filmmakers, said Louise Ryan, a spokeswoman for Screen Ireland, a government agency that has funded many of the films. “The flexibility of the genre has attracted a lot of directors.”
Vivarium, a 2019 sci-fi horror starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots that premiered in Cannes, drew on Ireland’s ghost towns, which were abandoned during a financial crash. “It was a way to talk about the social contract and people who are trapped in a system,” said director, Lorcan Finnegan, 43.
His next film, Nocebo, is about a London fashion designer who seeks help from a Filipino nanny because of a tick infection. Shot in Dublin and Manila, the film, starring Eva Green and Mark Strong, examines cultural exploitation.
It has taken Irish filmmakers a long time to embrace Ireland’s legacy of storytelling and folklore, Finnegan said. “I grew up hearing stories from my parents about banshees and fairy curses, but it wasn’t really represented in the movies until 10 or 15 years ago.”
A horror comedy about Dublin vampires to be released around Halloween, Let the Wrong One In paid homage to Bram Stoker, a Dubliner, by shooting a scene at Castle Dracula, a Dublin visitor attraction that claims to be the world’s only Bram Stoker Dracula vampire museum.
“Growing up, it always struck me as odd that Irish horror films didn’t exist,” said Let the Wrong One In director Conor McMahon, 42. When he started making short films as a teenager, he noticed that horror films arrived best.
“All my feature films have been in the horror genre and I will probably stay there. I do it with pleasure. There are so many subgenres that it never feels like you’re doing the same thing.”