THE PERISHED [FRIGHTFEST 2019] / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: PADDY MURPHY / STARRING: COURTNEY MCKEON, FIACH KUNZ, PAUL FITZGERALD, LISA TYRRELL, OISIN ROBBINS, CONOR LAMBERT, NOELLE CLARKE / RELEASE DATE: TBC
When college student Sarah unexpectedly becomes pregnant, the discovery is only the start of her problems. Dumped by her uncaring boyfriend and shunned by her sanctimonious mother, she travels abroad for an abortion and returns to recuperate at the family home of a sympathetic friend. Unfortunately, the house has a history surrounding mothers and unwanted babies, and through her sorrow, the lost souls of those denied life find a way to the world of the living.
One of the great things about horror is its inherent flexibility that allows for the exploration of human issues through the medium of visual fear. Using this malleability, Paddy Murphy follows up his excellent debut feature of brutal crime tale The Three Dont’s with an examination of an issue often shied away from. When it comes to the stigma of abortion, you may imagine it as something consigned to the past, but The Perished is set in contemporary Ireland, where abortion was only decriminalised as recently as last year, and prior to this thousands of women had to travel abroad to get the help they needed.
However, rather than wade into the morality of the debate, the film instead asks us to express empathy for the women who find themselves in a situation with no easy way out, and where each option is not made lightly and comes with its own difficulties that must be dealt with in the aftermath. Although it’s clear on which side of the issue Murphy stands, the film also acknowledges that people have reasons to object to abortion that go beyond ignorance and bigotry.
There are two stories at work here. First is the social commentary drama of the reality of women forced to endure disgrace artificially fashioned by a society that seeks to shame them into acquiescence. Complementing this is horror both psychological and grotesquely physical, which without wishing to give too much away, is reminiscent of what you might find in something made by Clive Barker or David Cronenberg, portraying that same disregard and contempt made manifest.
Courtney McKeon, who had a supporting role in The Three Don’ts as a ruthless fixer for a drug kingpin, is given the chance to showcase a far greater range and does not disappoint. From the moment Sarah discovers her predicament in a jump cut from the fun of a clubbing hook-up in the back seat of a car to vomiting into a toilet and terrified of what the nearby pregnancy test might show her, she exists in a permanent cycle of misery and despair. As if making what is likely the hardest and most traumatic decision of her life wasn’t enough, she must also endure the judgement of people who know nothing about her, in addition to the supernatural torment of blood-tinted nightmares and the ethereal echoes of crying infants. It’s a good twenty minutes before anything otherworldly is even alluded to, but the incorporeal powers gathering around Sarah soon use her raging tempest of conflicting emotions to grow in strength.
The Perished is not an easy watch, and was never intended to be one. Its compelling fusion of emotional anguish and supernatural horror allows you to understand a fraction of the torment women have suffered because of abortion laws, and that everyone involved is a victim of circumstance only trying to make the best decision for their own future.