One of many exciting developments in the horror genre during the 2000s has been the emergence of so many films coming out of Ireland. Rather than yet another ranking of the Leprechaun franchise (I’ll save you the trouble – Origins is still the worst), this St. Patrick’s Day holiday seems like a good time to celebrate some of the really cool Irish horror films of the last 15 years.
Here are 10 of the best that you should check out.
Boy Eats Girl (2005, dir. Stephen Bradley) – Sure, it seems as though they started with the title and worked backwards, but Boy Eats Girl is a surprisingly charming Irish-made horror comedy about a high schooler (David Leon) who dies and is brought back to life by his mother, but comes back as a flesh-hungry zombie. This complicates his burgeoning relationship with Jessica (Samantha Mumba), the girl he likes, especially as the zombie virus begins to spread throughout the school. More teen comedy than hardcore horror film, Boy Eats Girl boasts likable characters and some genuine sweetness, plus gets gorier the longer it goes on.
Isolation (2005, dir. Billy O’Brien) – If you’re looking for the movie that makes cows scary, look no further. A cattle farmer allows some of his cows to be genetically modified to increase fertility, but what results is a kind of monstrous parasite with the ability to infect humans as well. While a little on the slow side, Isolation is a good enough riff on John Carpenter’s The Thing to warrant a recommendation. The cast is impressive, too, with early performances from Essie Davis (of The Babadook), Sean Harris (the bad guy from Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation and Fallout), and Ruth Negga.
Wake Wood (2009, dir. David Keating) – A ‘70s-inspired effort in the tradition of Don’t Look Now, Wake Wood is the devastating story of a couple (Eva Birthistle and Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen) who lose their young daughter to a tragic act of animal violence. When a stranger (Timothy Spall) offers to bring her back for a few days so they can have a proper goodbye, the offer is too tempting for the grieving couple to resist. But as anyone who has read or seen Pet Sematary can tell you, something is … off…about the couple’s newly-revived daughter. As someone with young kids, there are a lot of scenes in Wake Wood that are hard to watch, but that’s a testament to the movie’s power and effectiveness. Consider yourself warned. This was the first movie released by the revived Hammer Films.
Citadel (2012, dir. Ciarán Foy) – One of the better killer kid movies of the last 20 years, Citadel finds a man (Aneurin Barnard) traumatized by tragedy and becoming agoraphobic, making it difficult to raise his infant daughter alone. The screenplay is based in part on a real life trauma experienced by Foy (who would go on to direct Sinister 2), which helps explain why the movie’s brand of paranoid psychological terror feels so immediate and real. It’s Polanski’s Repulsion meets Cronenberg’s The Brood.
Grabbers (2012, dir. Jon Wright) – One of the few giant creature features ever produced out of Ireland boasts a most inspired premise: a town, under siege by giant tentacled monsters with an allergy to alcohol, must stay drunk in order to stay alive and save the day. By leaning into a national stereotype in the premise of the movie, Grabbers manages to be funny and charming while still delivering the goods as a monster movie. Comparisons to Tremors are inevitable but apt.
The Canal (2014, dir. Ivan Kavanagh) – This might be my favorite movie on this list. Rupert Evans (The Boy) plays a film archivist who discovers, through an old film, that a brutal murder took place at his house in the early 1900s. His cheating wife then goes missing around the same time that he begins to see ghosts. Tense and expertly constructed, The Canal is a slow-moving descent into a nightmare, with a streak of Fulci-esque Italian horror in the way that the supernatural will suddenly shatter through reality, blurring the lines of what is real and what isn’t. There’s an element of David Lynch’s Lost Highway as well in how director Kavanagh uses film as memory, especially as a way of remembering things the way we want to remember them.
The Hallow (2015, dir. Corin Hardy) – A couple travels into a remote forest in Ireland to conduct some research, only to find themselves besieged by creatures who want their infant son and are confined to darkness. Once again combining family tragedy and folklore, this time with an element of body horror, The Hallow fits in with a lot of the Irish horror on this list but manages to stand out as being a rare creature feature that’s well executed, if a little familiar.
A Dark Song (2016, dir. Liam Gavin) – Like Wake Wood before it, A Dark Song centers on a woman (Catherine Walker) who, overwhelmed by grief, consults an occultist (Steve Oram) to perform a ceremony that she feels will help her find closure. Whereas Wake Wood is primarily concerned with what happens after the child is brought back, A Dark Song is much more procedural in terms of performing the rites of the ceremony, which get darker and more challenging as the film goes on. The debut feature from writer/director Liam Gavin is essentially an intense two-character drama anchored by a pair of excellent performances and a willingness to fearlessly commit to going places other movies might not dare.
The Lodgers (2017, dir. Brian O’Malley) – Director Brian O’Malley’s follow-up to 2014’s Let Us Prey (a nasty little slice of Irish horror that would also be right at home on this list and is well worth a watch) is a gorgeous period ghost story about a pair of twins haunted by a curse that keeps them trapped inside their deteriorating family mansion. More concerned with etheral Gothic beauty than actual scares – more The Innocents than The Shining – the movie is, like so much Irish horror, about past tragedies and folklore traditions. It’s fascinating to see how many films produced by the country seem to be attempting to deal with their national history inside the horror genre.
The Hole in the Ground (2019, dir. Lee Cronin) – The most recent title on this list, this year’s The Hole in the Ground tells the story of a mother (Seána Kerslake) whose young son begins acting very strangely after they move into a house in the woods near an enormous sinkhole. The movie plays like the summation of every other Irish horror film on this list: it’s got the Irish countryside (Isolation, The Hallow), scary kids (Citadel, Wake Wood), parents and children at the forefront (Citadel, Wake Wood, A Dark Song), and Irish folklore (The Hallow, The Lodgers, Wake Wood). This is not to suggest the movie is derivative, just that there appear to be patterns across the country’s genre output – certain themes and tropes that pop up again and again and which are very much present in The Hole in the Ground. It’s like the Greatest Hits of Irish Horror.