Year of the grisly at Galway Film Fleadh


The fleadh always seeks to highlight fresh domestic cinema, and this is the year of the Irish horror as rural sea monsters, Dublin zombies and Aran Island ghosts come to town

GALWAY FILM FLEADH kicked off last night with a screening of Jon Wright’s very enjoyable Grabbers. The picture, which was developed by Forward Films with the help of the UK Film Council and the Irish Film Board, is one of several horrors playing at the fleadh. It concerns a small town in rural Ireland that finds itself under siege by impressively gloopy sea monsters. Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley play a pair of guards – he’s drunk and confused; she’s keen and anal – who counter the attack by, for reasons we won’t spoil, shepherding the citizens to the local pub and advising them to suck back the booze. All kinds of comic mayhem ensues.

Reminders of other light-hearted monster films announce themselves. The scenario suggests the much-admired killer-worm shocker Tremors. When smaller cephalopods appear and begin bouncing about the pub, one thinks of Gremlins. The combination of everyday banality and fantastic danger triggers echoes of Shaun of the Dead. But Grabbers has an atmosphere all its own: the humour is earthy without being patronising; the action sequences are both absurd and properly exciting.

If one were desperate to complain, one might point out that the sense of place is a little uncertain. We seem to be in Donegal, but most of the accents seem to be circling maritime quarters of Connacht. Even Bronagh Gallagher, predictably hilarious in a supporting role, seems slightly less northern than usual. On a more serious point, the elaborate music (good in itself) by Christian Henson is often poundingly intrusive.

Never mind that. Grabbers turns out to be a very respectable entertainment that makes enormously crafty use of its small budget. The computer-generated creatures look very much up to scratch. The acting is excellent throughout.

OVER THE DECADES a perception has grown up that, if you’re making a low-budget film, then horror is the way go. Audiences and financiers are, it is argued, more open to cut-price entertainments in that genre than they are to inexpensive comedies or dramas. Wes Craven, director of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and George Romero, creator of Night of the Living Dead, both admit that, when they shot their first no-budget horrors, they had no particular enthusiasm for the scary movie. Those were simply the films they felt able to finance and able to sell.

Irish film-makers have, with varying degrees of success, attempted to apply that lesson in the past. Paddy Breathnach’s Shrooms, Conor McMahon’s Dead Meat and David Keating’s Wakewood all did disgusting things with modest amounts of money.

But 2012 really seems to be the year of Irish horror. This year’s fleadh, an event that always seeks to highlight fresh Irish cinema, is showing three new domestic features in a spooky vein. As well as Grabbers, audiences can see John Carney’s The Rafters, a supernatural drama set on the Aran Islands, and Bing Bailey’s somewhat bloodier Portrait of a Zombie.

Carney began his career as a lo-fi guerrilla, but, having directed the acclaimed Once, he now has a powerful reputation in the industry. Bailey, however, is still trying valiantly to attract attention. He was raised in Finglas, in Dublin, and he decided to move away from the world of information technology when, after deciding not to go into work at the World Trade Center one autumn day, he escaped involvement in the September 11th attacks. “After that event I thought, I don’t want to die an IT guy,” he says.

He went on to self-finance Portrait of a Zombie. The film, whose title tells you much you need to know, seeks to combine political commentary with social comedy and genre shocks. It’s a formula that worked for Romero. So is it really easier to flog a low-budget horror?

“Making an independently budgeted film is hard whatever genre you are in,” Bailey says. “Horror is easier to sell by a minute fraction. You are still up against distributors who don’t want to take a risk, distributors who will say, ‘Yes, the acting is great, but there’s no A-lister in the movie.’ Hey, if I had an A-lister in the movie I wouldn’t be speaking to you.”

At any rate, the ploy seems to have worked for Grabbers. After successful screenings at the fleadh and at Edinburgh International Film Festival, Wright’s picture will be playing in commercial cinemas from the beginning of August. Horror may indeed be the way to go.

Galway Film Fleadh runs until Sunday

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