Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – The Glenarma Tapes

FrightFest review – The Glenarma Tapes

A found footage horror from Northern Ireland, with a nice line in escalation from patter-heavy social realist bad behaviour to nightmare in the woods.  In March 2020, four students from Mid-Ulster College of the Arts and a couple of teachers disappear in Glenarma forests – but recovered footage is pieced together to fill in the blanks of the mystery.  Jimmy (Ryan Early), who has a scholarship to a film school in Norway (!) to look forward to, is doing a class project documenting a day in the life of his charismatic, short-fused pal Gordy (Warren McCook), who has a rough home life and rubs everyone in school and out the wrong way besides.  Jimmy catches a snatch of conversation between teachers Mallon (Colette Lennon Dougal) and Holmes (Declan Rodgers) which suggests they’re heading out to Glenarma Woods for an adulterous liaison – naturally, the lads decide to tail them – dragging along Eleanor (Sophie Hill) and Clare (Emily Lamey) – and make a sex tape they can use for blackmail.

After a bus trip out to the wilds and some blundering in the woods, the kids find their teachers engaged not in sex but something stranger, more dangerous, and lethal – involving bark masks, crossbows, ritual chants and a probable body count.  It’s at once a shout back to 1970s paranoia movies like Race With the Devil or The Devil’s Rain – you know, the films where the Sheriff would always be the high priest of the coven – and a riff on the many stories of local and high-level corruption involving people in positions of power getting away with treating disposables like ASBO kids any way they want.  The premise is familiar, but director Tony Devlin – who also co-wrote with Paul Kennedy – spring a few surprises by going against found footage expectations (especially in the coda) while also getting a lot out of their young leads.

McCook is excellent as a confident yet awkward kid – the kind of guy who listens to a girl’s music composition and instinctively writes it off as ‘shite’ to get a laugh but is stung by the way the casual dismissal changes her attitude to him (probably forever).  Rodgers, necessarily offscreen because he’s wielding the camera for most of the film, also manages to create a complicated, believable character – with dyed red hair and a goonish look, but also a natural reserve which means he lets less slip than his pal but plainly has a sense of where things are going.  Oh, and the forests dark and deep – with their murderous inhabitants – look lovely and menacing in equal measure.

Here’s the FrightFest listing.




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