The Perished (2019)

Director: Paddy Murphy
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Starring: Courtney McKeon, Paul Fitzgerald, Fiach Kunz, Lisa Tyrell, Conor Lambert, Noelle Clarke, Oisin Robbins, Stephen Tubridy, Tim Hourigan, Phoebe Murphy

Shunned by her religious zealot family and dumped by her boyfriend, Sarah Dekker (Courtney McKeon) is finding it hard to cope with having an abortion. She recovers with her sympathetic friend, Davet (Paul Fitzgerald), as the pair stay at a parochial house in the country. But unbeknownst to her, the house sits atop a mass grave of babies, with their lost spirits wanting to be reborn. They need a mother, and feeding upon the guilt and remorse, they may have found one in Sarah.

A feature bookended by texts paying tribute to the real life nightmares of abortion in Ireland, writer and director Paddy Murphy has made his intentions entirely clear. To root his genre flick in relevant topics of real human horror, tackling subjects which should be left in the past to learn from, rather than actively debated to this day. Through this, we get a harrowing depiction of how relationships can be harmed by pressures brought on by cultural stigmas, and being beholden to dated ideas in the name of religion.

Sarah finds herself on the receiving end of these terrible things, as the discovery of her pregnancy and abortion leads to Sarah's mother dragging her out of bed, by her hair, and declaring that her child has brought shame upon their family. It's harrowing to watch, leading to Sarah feeling the pain of such isolation from those she loves, in order to go through with what she desperately wants. She clearly never wanted to be put into such a situation, and the end result weighs heavily upon her mind, severely affecting her, and it only works thanks to Courtney McKeon's exceptional performance being put into it. She does so well in conveying what her character is feeling, and it'd take a heart of stone to not sympathise with her in this saddening situation.

Lending able support in her time of need is Davet, a character that's thankfully more than just the "gay best friend" stereotype cinema is often guilty of. He's a fully formed character in his own right, there to care for his friend when she needs it, while having his own valid feelings and emotions. It's brought to screen very well by Paul Fitzgerald's performance, while helping to sell the pair's charming friendship. Also key to the story is Shaun, Sarah's ex who's trying to patch things up. He's more than just a one note figure, but a completely believable character given life thanks to a wonderful turn from Fiach Kunz.

The character drama is very well done, which makes it a shame the more genre friendly elements aren't such a knockout. It's all so promising, as Sarah's worries are embodied in a nightmarish creature made up of deceased babies, fully realised thanks to stunning practical effects. But when it comes to the final act, where the horror elements come out in full force, they don't hit as well as one wishes. It hinges on vital character revelations, and key events occurring, but they happen in such a rapid succession. One wishes there was more time spaced out to give more weight to these moments, for what's left comes off as ticking off necessary happenings on a checklist.

But, to his credit, Paddy Murphy never forgets where the true horror lies. It's in bowing to shame and stigma, actions which ensure a horrific cycle will remain unbroken, and cause the same tragedies to repeat ad nauseam. It's taking away someones choice, relinquishing them of their autonomy, and forcing them to go through with something they don't want to. It's in these moments that the film stays with you, long after the credits have rolled.

The Perished is a nightmare rooted in cultural stigma, which succeeds more in its human moments of horror rather than the supernatural. With such topics on his mind, it's worth keeping an eye out on Paddy Murphy's further career.