Frightfest: The Glenarma Tapes (2023)

Director: Tony Devlin

Running Time: 79 Minutes

Starring: Warren McCook, Emily Lamey, Ryan Early, Sophie Hill

Making his directorial debut, Tony Devlin establishes a framing device set two years after the mysterious disappearance of multiple students and two lecturers within a remote Irish forest. Found footage recovered from a police operation pieces together the missing people's last movements within the cold darkness of Glenarma Forest.

For his media assignment, Jimmy (Ryan Early) directs a "day in the life" documentary of his best friend Gordy (Warren McCook). The unfolding footage depicts the tough life Gordy faces at home and in Mid Ulster College, with many adults treating him with such hostility. It's clear that many look down upon the troubled student, ignoring his evident smarts and kindness that lurks beneath the hardened exterior he puts up.

While at college, the friends record two teachers in a conversation which hints at a possible affair in-between badmouthing their students. With the help of Clare (Emily Lamey), who is working on a short film, and Eleanor (Sophie Hill), who Gordy has feelings for, the group travel to Glenarma intending to embarrass the teachers by exposing the affair. However, it becomes clear that things are not as the teens believe as they discover a ritualistic hunt unfolding within the woods.

Key to this film are the central friendship group, as effective performances and likeable chemistry bring alive these believable friends. Be it Gordy clinging onto his best friend for his future hopes, or Jimmy's commitment to filmmaking resulting in him constantly recording, there lies credibility in their actions across the circumstances. While some decisions feel baffling, such as a character screaming in the woods while knowing armed hunters are nearby, this does not diminish the effectiveness of any upsetting turns taken.

Devlin and co-writer Paul Kennedy blend a found-footage style with folk horror, as the dark woods become the setting of a fight for survival against murderous pursuers. While these moments bring to mind stronger films within those sub-genres, what sets apart this intriguing story are the interesting diversions taken as the story continues. What remains is a curious blend of ideas which also takes time to focus on the aftermath, and how the survivors of such trauma can be tarred by the media, an element which brings to mind America's ridiculous claims of "crisis actors." Here is to a promising future for all involved in this work.

The Glenarma Tapes made its International Premiere at Frightfest 2023