This tackles weighty issues – the difficulty of terminating an unwanted pregnancy in Ireland, the history of abuse of unmarried mothers and their offspring in the brutal care of the Catholic church – but is also a body horror monster movie, which segues from relatively subtle social-psychological horror to all-out creature feature material. It’s not a hash like the similarly-themed Red Christmas, but does send mixed messages – especially with sincere opening and closing captions that take a pro-choice angle.
Student Sarah (Courtney McKeon) finds herself pregnant by boyfriend Shane (Fiach Kunz), who launches into a passive-aggressive breakup speech before she can tell him – and, of course, later whines about having his own choice taken away when she’s gone to Liverpool to have an abortion. She’s thrown out of her home by her joylessly Catholic mother (Noelle Clarke) while her weak-willed father (Conor Lambert) hums and haws, and takes refuge with gay best friend David (Paul Fitzgerald), who spirits her off for a weekend break in what turns out to be an inadvisable location – a former Magdalen Laundry that’s haunted by all the horrors that took place within its walls. Sarah suffers from alarming vaginal bleeding as an after-effect of the procedure … but that’s nothing compared to the humungous unformed raw red meat creature/demon which shows up to terrorise her.
Writer-director Paddy Murphy, in his first feature after many shorts, seesaws between social realism with a humanist angle and outright gruesome horror. Everyone apart from Sarah acts as if constrained by the conventions of their roles, but that’s precisely why her situation is so agonising – there’s a quiet horror in the moments when she foresees how conversations are going to play out with her useless boyfriend or narrow-minded mother but still has to go through with the argument. There’s much noisier horror in the business with the monster, which perhaps has to bear too much symbolic weight on its spiny back but is also a cool throwback to the sorts of grotesque physical effects seen in the likes of Inseminoid and XTRO. McKeon is excellent in the lead.