Horror has a long history of injecting social issues into the DNA of its films. The genre lends itself perfectly to allow filmmakers to get their points of view across, or to spark discussion, or to shine a light on something we all happily keep hidden. From The Crazies to Get Out, horror provides directors a soap box and a megaphone, how they use it is up to them.
With that in mind, Irish filmmaker and The Three Don’ts director Paddy Murphy brings us The Perished. A tale spun with the earnest hope that it forces the world to talk about the stigma of abortion in Ireland, a shadow that plagues the country even today.
Sarah Dekker is a regular young woman. She lives at home with mum and dad, she works all day and goes out at night. She’s got a boyfriend and a best friend and life seems pretty good. But that all changes the day she discovers she is pregnant. Already wrestling with what the future might hold, before she has the chance to tell her boyfriend Shane their joint predicament, he breaks things off with her. Unmarried, pregnant and desperate the painful decision to travel to England for an abortion is all but made for her.
But if things were bad before, Sarah’s world comes crashing down when her parents find out about the procedure and kick her out of their house and all but disown her.
Needing rest, relaxation and recuperation, Sarah travels with her best friend Davet to his family house in the country, little do they know that the house they are staying in was once a “mother and baby home”; a place unmarried mothers and their babies were placed to be kept from prying, judgemental eyes. With the house’s history, come the ghosts of the past and now the spirits of generations of children who died at the house are torturing Sarah.
The Perished dares you to imagine the guilt and heartache of having to put yourself through an abortion, in a country that demonises people for it no matter their reasons. Only to be left alone to fight the mental anguish, depression and regret that the women that have felt like this is their only option have to deal with long after the procedure has been forgotten about.
Sarah Dekker; portrayed by the excellent Courtney McKeon; is a woman haunted not just by the monsters in the house she is hiding out in, but by what her abortion has done to her body. McKeon does a wonderful job of putting her plight on screen; she allows us to put ourselves in Sarah’s place and live just a little of what these women put themselves through – sometimes in the name of their own physical safety – knowing they’ll be demonised for it. Every time Sarah finds herself bleeding, it’s a stark reminder of what she has had to do, each nightmare or stomach cramp has her leaning harder and harder on Davet and pushing the boundaries of their friendship. When the evils of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries appear to both Sarah and Davet, whether or not they believe in the horror living in the house, the downward spiral they find themselves on is very real.
As the young woman finds herself face-to-Face with Kilin, the monstrous physical manifestation of all the awful things that have happened in that place, it would appear that while it might be a monster of Clive Barker-esque proportions, it might not necessarily be the worst thing in that house. Brought to life by Stephen and Bekki Tubridy, the gruesome creation makes for uncomfortable viewing, not made any better when it encounters the people staying in the house.
With The Perished, Paddy Murphy has put together a film that is not only frightening in a classic, horror movie way; making you jump and recoil in terror perfectly and on command. He has made a film that is truly terrifying once you realise that this isn’t a fictional problem. And while the monster is make-believe, the allegory for the awful things that the women of Ireland have suffered through – and still suffer through – for generations is disturbingly real. Murphy isn’t sitting you down and forcing you to take his political views unbalanced. While the positive bias lies with Sarah and her predicament, those on the other side of the fence are never vilified for their beliefs. Serving as writer as well as director, Murphy gives the angry parents, and the boyfriends who feel betrayed, and anyone else that might not agree with Sarah’s decision as fair a shake and more than just the benefit of the doubt as he allows every side to the argument play out. It’s a delicate line that needs to be tip-toed along carefully and Murphy navigates it masterfully.
There is a sense of dread in The Perished, one that cranks up the tension as the minutes roll on and leaves audiences involuntarily chewing on their nails. The creeping suspense that Murphy and his crew have managed to put to film wouldn’t be out of place alongside classics like Don’t Look Now, such is the quality of the work on display here.
The Perished is as bleak a film as you will see this year. It’s a heartfelt look at one of the few big stigmas left in society while being a damn fine horror film at the same time. Paddy Murphy gets behind his podium and tells his story, forcing you to be a part of the conversation. It’s piercing atmosphere will leave as much of a cold feeling in the pit of your stomach as it will leave you scared. The film is a brilliant sophomoric effort and solidifies Murphy’s spot on the “directors to watch” list.
Written + Directed by: Paddy Murphy
Cast: Courtney McKeon, Fich Kunz, Paul Fitzgerald