After a referendum was held back in May 2018, abortion was made legal in Ireland – but it’s still hard to access for the women of Ireland. It remains a controversial topic that isn’t often enough represented in media. However, after directing many short films over the years, Irish filmmaker Paddy Murphy is looking to change that with his feature-length debut, The Perished; a social horror that follows the aftermath of its Irish protagonist’s abortion. The film had its world premiere at FrightFest and will definitely create some lively chatter among its audience.
The Perished opens with some important text that explains the weight of the issue. Between 1980 and 2017, at least 173,308 women and girls have traveled across the Republic of Ireland to access abortion services in another country. Sometimes women with unwanted pregnancies were put in facilities such as Magdalene Laundries or Mother & Baby Homes by the Catholic Church. The rest of the text sets up the horrifying events yet to come: “In 2014, in the small town of Tuam, the remains of over 800 babies were found in the septic tank of a Mother and Baby Home. They ranged from newborns to three-year-olds.” These are The Perished.
The story follows Sarah Dekker (Courtney McKeon), who finds herself with an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, despite using contraception. After her boyfriend Shane breaks up with her, Sarah decides to have an abortion but is kicked out of the house when her conservative and religious mother (Noelle Clarke) finds out. In secret, Sarah’s father (Conor Lambert) gives her the money to fly to the UK to have the procedure.
When Sarah returns, she heads to the Irish countryside with her best friend Davet (Paul Fitzgerald) to recover. They stay at his family holiday home, a former religious house, which, unknown to them, sits atop a mass baby graveyard. As Sarah wrestles with the emotional turmoil of her decision and not telling Shane, the spirits of the babies take the shape of a psychical entity known as Kilin (Stephen Tubridy) which are waiting to be reborn – and unfortunately for Sarah, they look to her as a mother figure.
The first 20 minutes of The Perished resembles that of a low budget film made solely for the purpose of raising awareness of abortion laws in Ireland. It feels similar to YouTuber Melanie Murphy’s (no relation to the director) short film, Choice, which focuses on family drama. The Perished taps into its social issues very strongly, slowly turning Sarah’s emotional distress into horror: she notices an abandoned crib on the side of the road, experiences flickering lights and begin hearing the cries of babies in the not-so-far distance. Things take a turn when Sarah begins seeing a gruesome figure (the Kilin), usually from the perspective of sleep paralysis.
Interestingly enough, Murphy revealed in an interview that sleep paralysis is actually where the idea for his film came from: “It began with the idea of being in bed, suffering sleep paralysis and having something stalk towards in the dark and just slide alongside, cuddling you. This led to the idea of what ‘monster’ would have that kind of agenda.”
The Perished uses simple but hard-hitting imagery for its scares, alongside an intense and powerful score. Murphy spends time creating impressive practical effects and building an atmosphere of both dread and suspense. He is a huge fan of John Carpenter and Wes Craven, who are both masters of creating a powerful atmosphere in their films. It’s evident that Murphy really took this on board to create a film that blends horror and social issues which can appeal to people on both sides of the debate and carry on the conversation.
Unfortunately, the film’s poster – alongside its fantastic premise – over-sells it. It’s an incredible work of art, but it misrepresents the film’s low budget feel. It did seem like it was going to be a lot more intense with heavy Gothic tones and colorful lighting. The Perished is still a decent film that tells the story it wants to tell, but it feels a little lackluster overall. Despite my lowish rating, this is a horror with a very strong message that many people will connect with. While it didn’t fully resonate with me, Murphy has made an intriguing contribution to a genre that thrives off of the horrors of real life.