Lorcan Finnegan’s ‘Without Name’ marks an incredibly strong, unconventional start for the ambitious horror filmmaker
There’s something fundamentally scary about the woods. It’s a sub-genre of horror that filmmakers have been continuing to explore for decades because it’s something that’s forever relevant. It’s frightening to be lost in some unfamiliar territory, and even more so when you begin to doubt yourself and become skeptical of your surroundings. Accordingly, first time director Lorcan Finnegan isn’t exploring any new territory here, but he is creating something deeply hypnotic and affecting that demands your attention.
Without Name is a film that is incredibly sparse on plot, which happens to simultaneously be an asset and deterrent for the picture. I am all about psychedelic trips inward as a substitute for story progression, but the introspective angle might prove to be too scant for some. The film’s story sees Eric (Alan McKenna), a surveyor getting stationed out to do work in the woods in Dublin, and that’s kind of it. Right away Eric seems eager at the opportunity to be able to flee his family, wife, and the responsibilities that make up his life, but not escape from himself however, which he isolates alone in his cabin. Before Eric goes on his exodus into madness, Without Name does an impressive job at just how fractured his marriage is in a very economical amount of time. It feels like Finnegan amplifies their silences within their house, turning the humble home into a cavernous mansion that merely magnifies their struggles. These moments of tension reverberate through the walls of the house. Even in this earlier portion of the film, things are still reasonably trippy and cerebral from the jump with Eric, so when you eventually reach the point that he’s actively downing a bag of hallucinogens, things get considerably crazier.
As Eric begins to lose himself to the woods, the trees and his surroundings begin to come further into focus as he becomes decreasingly so. It’s funny that in a lot of ways Without Name manages to beat the recent, similarly focused Blair Witch at its own game. Those that were disappointed with Blair Witch might actually find themselves getting more of a kick out of Finnegan’s offering and how it chooses to explore such ideas. Finnegan goes with the less is more approach for more of this film, but the few moments of context clues that exist are super interesting. For instance, Eric stumbles a book that was left behind in his cabin that basically implies that trees speak their own language and have control of the woods (it makes you wonder if Finnegan could ever take Shyamalan’s tree-centric, The Happening, and be able to turn it into something decent).
Added to all of this are a wide range of stylistic effects that Finnegan utilizes with vigor, whether they’re strobes, psychotropic effects, the film’s sound design, or even the editing (seeing how the editing at home versus the editing in the woods differs is incredible). All are brilliant techniques that also convey how warped things have gotten. There’s even a foreboding silhouette in the fog that’s continually “haunting” Eric. I also appreciated the references to these woods being some sort of Twin Peaks-esque Black Lodge sort of portal that’s simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. The film mentions, “It’s a non-specific kind of a place,” regarding the woods. How else would you describe such an otherworldly experience.
Without Name does happen to also get into the idea of commercialization and industrialization and how no one truly owns land. It gets a little heavy handed here, but the idea of the woods themselves rebelling and unwilling to be classified and studied isn’t the worst idea. It’s survival instinct kicking in, which is another big theme of this film. “I don’t believe in the concept of private property,” is said at one point, and it’s a deeply appropriate line for the picture. You can’t be in control of the unknown, as much as we might think that we can.
Finnegan’s film looks beautiful, is wonderfully acted, and is a stunning, scary depiction of a crumbling mind. That being said, none of this is really original and it hits many of the usual “lost in the woods” greatest hits. However, the film doesn’t meander and chooses only the best moments of Eric’s deterioration to focus on. This film could easily be a sprawling two and a half hours and still mostly work, but turning things in at barely 90 minutes let’s all of this resonate and leaves you wanting more rather than becoming anxious to get out of these woods. Finnegan makes a strong debut to the horror scene and is a director who I’m incredibly curious what his next film will look like. Finnegan knows how to get in your head, so whether his next story is tripping balls or straight as an arrow, it’s going to be horror to get excited over.
The film screened at this year’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.