Without Name (2016) Movie Review - Hallucinogenic Irish Horror

Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller | 93 min
Without Name Cover Image
  • Director: Lorcan Finnegan
  • Actors: Alan McKenna, Niamh Algar, James Browne
  • Writers: Garret Shanley
  • Country: Ireland
  • Language: English
  • Parental: Drug Use, Peril, Language, Sexual Themes, Male And Female Nudity
  • Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller | 93 min

Follows a land surveyor on an assignment to measure an ancient forest for a developer but soon loses his reason in a supernatural environment that has its own plans.

Welcome to Knockout Horror and to a Horror Movie Review. We are off to Ireland today as we are taking a look at the Psychological Horror Movie – Without Name. Directed by Lorcan Finnegan. Without Name has been around for quite awhile now. This is one of the first reviews I ever added to the site. Anyways, being fans of Irish horror, we decided to check it out.

If you are reading this review in 2023. We just checked out another of Lorcan Finnegan’s movies. The recently released Nocebo stars Eva Green and features similar themes to Without Name. It is well worth checking out if you enjoy this movie. Why not take a look at our review of Nocebo after reading this one?

A “trip” to the woods

Without Name follows a Land Surveyor (Eric) as he is tasked with surveying 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.

Without Name

The woods in Without Name are imposing

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 traveller, Gus, in the pub. Gus lives in a caravan close to the forest and has some intimate knowledge of the area.

Gan ainm

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.

A beautiful movie

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” but Without Name is leaps and bounds better. I am hugely impressed by just how much he has come along since then. What a fantastic talent!

Without Name

Location shots in Without Name are simply gorgeous

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. 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. This is perfectly captured on film in Without Name. It’s just a gorgeous movie to look at. Even indoor scenes are afforded significant attention to detail. The lighting being of particular note.

Ridiculous Strobe Lighting

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 here. 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. It adds absolutely nothing to the movie and feels genuinely unnecessary. It is scary to think of someone discovering they have photosensitive epilepsy watching Without Name. Especially alone, in the middle of the night. A setting in which many viewers watch horror. Call me histrionic but it just feels excessive.

Acting and performances

Acting is, generally, very good. English actor Alan McKenna takes on the lead role of Eric. He 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. Especially 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. Obviously this 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. Even, dare I say it, annoying. Whether this is the intention or not, I am not sure. Olivia features minimal character development. 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. 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.

Without Identity

Lack of identity is part of Without Name’s problem. The film mixes themes of nature and the illusion of property ownership. With themes of  mental illness, the supernatural, mythology, and drug use. All in the hope that it somehow 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. This can lead the viewer to have 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. Despite this, I feel it is necessary for them to have a cohesive narrative. They need to be self assured in their 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. This is sure to leave some viewers wanting. A little more time spent on plot construction. As well as structuring a more satisfying ending would have entirely changed my opinion on this film.

Updating this review in 2024, I can say, without question, that Lorcan Finnegan’s later effort, Nocebo, was a step up in terms of storytelling. I’m also holding out hope that his short movie Foxes, featured in the anthology Nightmare Radio: The Night Stalker, gets a full length remake sometime in the future. Both productions are more interesting than Without Name.

Should You Watch Without Name?

I kind of feel like you probably should watch Without Name. It’s not a movie I hugely enjoyed but it is just so damn gorgeous that it deserves some attention. Without Name’s slow burning Psychological horror leaning just doesn’t quite stick the landing. I actually really enjoyed the first third of the film and I can’t wait to see more from director Lorcan Finnegan. But it loses its way somewhere along the second half.

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, I am not so sure. I wouldn’t feel confident recommending it to friends who wanted something scary so I can’t honestly feel confident rating it too highly in this review. 

It is a bit light on narrative and the scares dry up pretty fast. 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.

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