Stylish and thrilling new Irish horror movie is in cinemas now
It's a film that mixes contemporary themes with pulse-racing thrills.
Ireland has been on a bit of a roll over the past decade when it comes to producing horror movies. We’ve had A Dark Song, Boys from County Hell, The Hallow, The Hole in the Ground, The Little Stranger, Nocebo, Sea Fever and You Are Not My Mother. While each of these films are very good in different ways, they all share the gift of being able to get under viewers’ skin.
Double Blind, the latest entry in this new-Irish horror wave, also shares this quality. It centres on a group of cash-strapped young people who agree to be confined together for days on end in a secure medical facility. This is to take part in an experimental drug trial for massive pharmaceutical company Blackwood. The movie gets its name as this trial is a “double blind” one, meaning that neither the participants nor the researcher (horror icon Pollyanna Macintosh) will know what drugs are being dished out or for what purpose until the clinical trial is over.
From the offset, paranoia is high. The human guinea pigs begin to speculate as to what the pills they are receiving are, while speaking in hushed tones about rumours of “off the book” Blackwood-run trials. It soon becomes clear that the experimental drugs have an unusual side-effect. They prevent those that ingest them from being able to sleep.
While some of the participants voice concern about this development, they are convinced to continue with the trial by Blackwood offering them significantly more money. However, when one of the experimentees suddenly and violently dies and the rest find themselves trapped in the medical facility, the realisation dawns on them - if any of the participants fall asleep, they too will be killed.
The movie is the debut feature from director Ian Hunt-Duffy and writer Darach McGarrigle, who previously made the acclaimed shorts Gridlock and Low Tide together. The pair have delivered on their earlier premise with Double Blind, a horror thriller which manages to tackle a variety of weighty themes - a young generation being willing to put themselves in physical risk in the effort to afford rent, pharmaceutical companies putting profits over people - while avoiding speechifying. Instead, the filmmaking duo let these contemporary concerns play out naturally over a lean and mean 90-minute running time.
Keeping proceedings consistently taut and tense is Hunt-Duffy and McGarrigle’s deft layering of several different sub-genres on top of each other. Double Blind is essentially the kind of confined survival thriller where the trapped and panicked victims become as much of a threat to each other as the mysterious forces pulling the strings. But it’s also got a thick heaping of Cronenbergian-esque horror for good measure, as well as subtle touches which evoke more supernatural or psychedelic movies like Altered States and Flatliners. As our lead character (a tough and likeable Millie Brady) and the other experimentees spend more and more time awake, they begin to be plagued by strange visions - raising the question of whether these are the result of a lack of sleep or if the drug is giving them new perceptive abilities.
Like many horrors, Double Blind falters in its closing moments, with a denouement that jars with the harsh world the film had established up until that point. Nevertheless, the movie’s cool premise and medical facility setting, its strong characters and performances, as well as its relentless pace ensure that the film will make for great cinema viewing for anyone just seeking a tight and extremely watchable horror or thriller - perhaps one that serves as some neat counter-programming to the “major” movies in cinemas now ahead of the Oscars.
Double Blind is in Irish cinemas now.
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