We are off to Ireland today as we are taking a look at the Psychological Horror Movie – Without Name. Without Name is doing the rounds on Amazon’s “Prime Video” service at the moment so, being fans of Irish horror, we decided to check it out.
Without Name follows a Land Surveyor (Eric) as he is tasked with measuring an ancient forest. Eric is in the midst of a seemingly troubled marriage. Silent tension at the breakfast table is broken only by the sound of a spoon dropping into a bowl. Burdened by family life; he uses the upcoming trip as an opportunity to spend some time with his assistant, and lover, Olivia.
Although Eric stresses that the area is likely politically protected, a nameless corporation wishes to take advantage of the land and informs him that there are loopholes to exploit. They hired him thanks to his reputation for discretion and, with some trepidation, Eric begins to measure the land.
After a short while in the forest, it becomes apparent that there is something unusual about the area. Seeking further information, Eric takes a trip into the local village and meets a traveler, Gus, in the pub. Gus lives in a caravan close to the forest and has some intimate knowledge of the area.
As they walk back to Eric’s cottage, Gus informs Eric that the forest is known as gan ainm, “Without Name”, and is supposedly Fairy Land. Tales of men who venture in only to find themselves lost and walking in circles punctuate the area’s history.
The previous occupant of the cottage, Devoy, studied the forest and kept a detailed diary of the things he found. He believed the trees were talking to him and he spent considerable time attempting to interpret what they were saying. Devoy was eventually found in gan ainm naked, catatonic, and suffering from hypothermia. Although he survived, Devoy was driven insane and now lives in a care home. Though initially sceptical, Eric’s uneasiness grows as something in the forest watches.
The first thing I feel compelled to talk about is just how good Without Name looks. This is a truly beautiful film. Absolutely stunning cinematography is married perfectly with an impressive locale. Piers McGrail did fantastic work on “The Canal” and I am hugely impressed by just how much he has come along since then. What a fantastic talent!
The location is excellent; the trees in the forest are tightly packed and incredibly imposing. There is a feeling of intense claustrophobia whenever we are in the middle of gan ainm and the lighting transitions only heighten the feeling of discomfort. A muted colour palette adds to the bleak feel and fits well with the theme. There is something inherently terrifying about the woods and this is perfectly captured on film. Just a gorgeous movie to look at; even indoor scenes are afforded significant attention to detail with the lighting being of particular note.
I feel it necessary to point out that Without Name contains a strobe warning and not without good reason. I can’t think of a more intense strobe scene than the one featured in this movie. If you or someone you intend to watch with suffers from photosensitive epilepsy you should consider skipping this scene or not watching altogether. The scene starts at around 1:26:15 and ends at 1:27:29. I would go as far as to say that this is irresponsible film making and adds absolutely nothing to the movie. It is scary to think of someone discovering they have photosensitive epilepsy while watching this movie alone in the middle of the night. Call me histrionic but it just feels excessive.
Sound production is also a strong point. The trees groan and creak around Eric pushing him further into madness. This helps to transport us into his mind as he becomes overwhelmed by the cadence of nature. Are the trees talking to him? The use of music is kept to a minimum, much to the benefit of the movie as a whole.
I can’t help but think that a little less liberal use of reverb would have been advisable here. Some scenes feature sounds that feel a little too separated from the events on the screen. This is compounded by the use of headphones. I understand that this is intentional but I just didn’t find it to be very effective. The sound producers definitely got their money’s worth out of the reverse audio loop and reverb effects. Still, as I said, sounds production is generally great.
Acting is generally very good. English actor Alan McKenna takes on the lead role of Eric and holds the story together excellently. He convincingly portrays each side of Eric’s character from frustrated husband right down to that of a person losing his grip on sanity. His committed performance really shines given the scope of the character and his experiences. James Browne is well cast as the traveller Gus. He comes across as a little strange and out there which is entirely fitting given Gus’ nomadic, hippy, nature.
I didn’t find Niamh Algar, as Eric’s assistant and mistress Olivia, to be particularly noteworthy. I would go as far as to say that I found her to be somewhat unlikable and, dare I say it, annoying. Whether this is the intention or not, I am not sure. Olivia features minimal character development and it seems as though she is only there to help antagonise Eric and further illustrate his mental decline. I did enjoy Niamh Algar’s performance in “From the Dark” so I imagine she isn’t to blame.
It might be worth noting that Without Name contains male and female nudity as well as a brief, not particularly graphic, sex scene. It really doesn’t feel out of place and falls into the plot perfectly well. This type of thing doesn’t bother me but I know some people prefer to know so I will try to inform wherever applicable. Check the parental advisory section in the Movie Info either above or to the side depending on your device.
So we have gorgeous cinematography, a fantastic location, decent acting, and great sound production. Pretty promising, right? Well, unfortunately, a movie is only as great as the sum of its parts. The first 30 minutes of Without Name had me hooked. I loved the location and the imposing threat of “something” in the woods was plenty to keep me interested. Tension was ever present and the lack of jump scares was immensely refreshing. The fantastic visuals and sound combine to keep you on edge for much of the movie’s first half.
Unfortunately, as time progressed, the threat of something in the woods began to seem like nothing more than that – just a threat. There had been limited story progression and the gradually introduced story elements weren’t particularly compelling. The plot revelations hinted at something ultimately disappointing and new aspects were drip fed in that greatly confused the narrative. It suddenly seemed as though Without Name was losing its identity and had no idea what it wanted to be.
Lack of identity is part of Without Name’s problem. The film mixes themes of nature and the illusion of property ownership with mental illness, the supernatural, mythology, and drug use in the hope that it somehow all gels together. Unfortunately, the gel that Without Name relies on is subjective interpretation rather than actual substance and compelling story telling. The narrative often feels convoluted and somewhat bloated which leads the viewer to come up with their own ideas. This, in itself, is fine but Without Name depends on the viewer to tie up its loose ends.
It’s difficult to criticise movies like Without Name. It is far too easy for people who disagree with your opinion to accuse you of “not getting it” or suggest that the film was “too intellectual” for you. I actually adore slow burning horror movies but I feel it is necessary for them to have a cohesive narrative that is self assured in its delivery and ultimately satisfying. Ambiguity is fine but Without Name left a number of plot points unresolved and plenty of unanswered questions. The story takes a back seat to the overwhelming visuals and presentation which is sure to leave some viewers wanting. A little more time spent on plot construction and structuring a more satisfying ending would have entirely changed my opinion on this film.
Do the negatives make Without Name a bad movie? Not particularly; I actually really enjoyed the first third of the film and I can't wait to see more from director Lorcan Finnegan. It just so happens that Without Name is a better art project than it is a movie. It's absolutely beautiful to look at and as a piece of art featuring an abstract reality it is difficult not to appreciate it.
As a movie, it's hard to recommend Without Name. I wouldn't feel confident recommending it to friends so I can't honestly feel confident rating it too highly in this review. I can't say I enjoyed it a great deal but I can imagine some people really do. It is absolutely beautiful to look at, well acted, and I am sure some people will absolutely love its somewhat trippy and tension laden nature. For me, it is just too confused and light on narrative. With a little more thought given to the story, I think Without Name could have been something quite special. As it stands, its just an above average indie horror that is stunning to look at.