Back in 2012, I covered a low-key horror festival in New York City that programmed a short titled Foxes. I can’t tell you what feature it played before, mainly because the slate of shorts Foxes was part of outshined the feature presentation without contest. Why am I telling you this? Because Foxes was Lorcan Finnegan’s first cinematic effort, and as my first assumption of his talents surmised, Without Name captures all the psychological tension that Finnegan once showcased in a tighter format. It’s a bit of hallucinogenic woodland mayhem – somewhere along the lines of a diet The Hallow – representing a solid feature debut for Mr. Finnegan, even if a little more depth is desired.
Alan McKenna stars as Eric, a land surveyor hired for some secretive private contract. His employer won’t reveal exactly why he was chosen, but what’s the point in questioning a paycheck? Eric begins his duties alone, becoming one with the woods, but he’s eventually joined by his student associate Olivia (Niamh Algar) – who he’s also romantically involved with.
Eric has a wife and son at home, but his time with Olivia surveying each other senseless seems to bring him more pleasure. Together, the two explore a densely wooded area while gathering data, but then their equipment starts to get tampered with, and readings go in flux. Eric enlists the help of a local, Gus (James Browne), to figure things out, yet no urban legends seem to help with the visions this adultering surveyor now suffers from. What’s really going on in these woods with no name?
Well, actually, it’s explained that the woods actually do have a name – it’s just the translation literally means “Without Name.” Eric is told a backstory about a man who previously rented the cabin he and Olivia are staying in, who was found in a catatonic state, paralyzed by the woods. This is our setup for the nastiness afoot, leading into shadowy figures and magnetic machines being thrown completely out of whack. Only, there’s not really a true spell or curse being explained, just a base-value “the woods are evil” story by Garret Shanley that doesn’t care much to expand upon the psychosis plaguing Finnegan’s protagonist.
The draw of Without Name comes from Finnegan’s direction, which is an exercise in restraint and blurred reality. When a good bone-chill is needed, scenic forest shots flood tree-filled areas with a thick, white fog, only permitting for undefined forms to show themselves in the distance. As Eric explores farther reaches of woodland nothingness, he discovers unnerving clues that suggest the presence of something – or someone – else. Finnegan is able to build tension through these creepy shots of spooky horror lore, but the payoff begs for something grander. There’s so much artistry drawing us in, only to reach an end that drifts off more than it does strike finality.
McKenna’s work as Eric aids in Finnegan’s thriller construction, as he plays “bewildered visitor” as a good genre character would. Visits to a local pub only incite small-town legend, while his psychotropic trips help him find a more natural headspace connected with isolated country life. All the cheating and Olivia drama play second fiddle to Eric’s more interesting internal thoughts, not to discredit Niamh Algar’s performance – it’s just added fluff meant to highlight what crossroads Eric currently faces. You’ll hear words like “Daddy” in Eric’s hazy views, so there’s an attempted tie-in, but these moments are always stronger as visuals than storytelling devices. Nothing bombs like some first-timers might allow, just languishing pan-outs that lead to an ambivalent nowhere.
Without Name strikes some serious horror poses, even if they might lead to a more tepid ending. The higher note here is that Lorcan Finnegan makes the jump to feature filmmaking with a strong enough control to craft an inherently creepy tale. It might be more terrifying in thought than it is in reality, but there’s enough established tension to withstand some of the slower moments of gazing out into a lush, green nothingness. Scenic atmosphere works, trees whisper ominous creeks and Alan McKenna goes a wee-bit insane – it’s all just enough to keep this softer genre film afloat.
Without Name is almost without character as well, but Lorcan Finnegan wrangles enough creepy woodland shots to keep this softer genre flick drenched in intrigue.