REVIEW: Boys From County Hell (2021)
British and Irish genre comedies are going to be under the shadow of Edgar Wright’s seminal rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead (2004) for some time to come, even though we’re approaching that film’s *cough* twentieth anniversary (I’m sorry). Joe Cornish’s less well-known Attack the Block (2011) deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Shaun, but none have reached the same level of breakout hit as the film that got red on you. The 2010s were a much better decade for horror, in general, than the 2000s and that extended to the British horror-comedy with Sightseers (2012), Prevenge (2016), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016) and Get Duked! (2019). Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith are keeping the genre very much alive on television, of course, with the continuation of The League of Gentlemen, as well as Psychoville and Inside No 9.
After British horror The Banishing landed on Shudder last week, this week it is the turn of the Republic of Ireland, with vampire comedy Boys From County Hell. Set in the very small town of Six Mile Hill (where everybody knows each other), the story is based around the legend of Abhartach, who some believe was the main influence on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The small town in question is situated next to the cairn where Abhartach’s remains are said to be buried and they’ve attempted to capitalise on this by naming the pub The Stoker, in the hope of luring naive American tourists a la An American Werewolf in London.
At the centre of the film is Eugene (Jack Rowan) and his best friend William (Fra Fee, from Animals and Pixie), as well as William’s girlfriend Claire (Louisa Hartland, who plays Orla in Derry Girls). Eugene’s Dad Francie (Nigel O’Neill) is the local builder, attempting to groom Eugene to take over the business. William’s Dad George (John Lynch, who was also in The Banishing) is the local undertaker and Eugene and William’s friend, SP (Michael Hough) is also on Francie’s crew of builders. The trouble starts to brew when Francie is tasked with building a bypass that goes through the field where Abhartach’s cairn lies. The cairn needs to be knocked down and due to superstition, no one wants to be the one to do it, so Eugene takes it upon himself.
Unsurprisingly, this turns out to be a disastrous idea. The comedic highlight comes about thirty-five minutes in, set to Eddi Cochran’s C’mon Everybody when one of the builders has turned into a blood-sucking demon of the night and needs to be stopped. There is a lot of dry Irish humour “well what we supposed to do about this?” but unfortunately, the film never reaches these heights again. The horror isn’t frightening, but there is some innovative use of blood, with it sprouting from some surprising orifices from the get-go (not just the usual neck bites).
The second half is more serious and dramatic, with Eugene having to face difficult choices involving William. Eugene’s relationship with his Dad Francie is a big theme throughout and despite Francie sweetly calling his son ‘cub,’ he is very hard on his son. The film mostly handles the different tones well, balancing the comedy and drama, which is definitely helped by the strong acting across the board. I do wish, with five main male characters and only one woman, that this could have been balanced better with more women. Fatherhood is clearly a major strand that writer-director Chris Baugh wants to explore, but having one dead mother and one who has ‘mentally checked out’ is frustrating. The Abhartach folklore could also have been explored a little more, as this is a little-known aspect of the vampire myth.
Any British or Irish film that a) isn’t a period drama b) isn’t centred around posh characters is to be welcomed. Horror comedies are one of my favourite genres and the Brits and Irish are particularly good at them. Boys From County Hell ticks a lot of positive boxes, but ultimately, it’s the acting that really sells it. The script is sharp and funny, but sags a little in the second half, when the comedy isn’t the main focus. All in all, there is much to recommend Boys From County Hell which is fun little independent film that deserves a chance at success.
BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL IS AVAILABLE ON SHUDDER FROM APRIL 22, 2021 IN THE US & CANADA