Sunday 22 April 2018

Vexed to nightmare in the trees by Finnegan's work

Lorcan Finnegan's work in commercials gets lots of laughs, but his feature movie debut is much darker

Alan McKenna in a scene from 'Without Name'
Alan McKenna in a scene from 'Without Name'
Lorcan Finnegan

Aine O'Connor

To confess or not to confess, that is today's question. Lorcan Finnegan's first full-length feature film Without Name is beautifully shot, the images of Wicklow are striking and the notion of sanity as tenuous is disturbing.

It is an atmospheric film that lingers, I'm just not entirely sure which of two possible meanings to take from it. In the end I confess and the director is reassuring, he is perfectly happy for audiences to feel a certain ambiguity.

Openness to interpretation aside, in order to make the film, Lorcan and writer Garret Shanley had to be entirely clear about what happens to the film's protagonist. Eric is a middle-aged surveyor in a bad marriage who takes on a morally dubious job in a forest. While doing the work he stays in an old cottage where he finds notes about the forest made by the cottage's previous owner, Devoy. Locals explain that Devoy was found catatonic in the forest and has never woken up. Strange things happen when Eric is alone in the woods, and the arrival of his assistant and lover Olivia and a big feed of magic mushrooms don't simplify things.

"We wanted it to be a meditative film where you come away with a sense of understanding the way you do after you have had a really weird dream," Lorcan explains, "that you feel you know what happened but it wasn't all completely spelt out." It has been marketed as a horror, indeed it won Best Feature and Best Director at the Brooklyn Horror Festival, but having to squeeze a film into a genre can be limiting.

"The aim wasn't so much to make a horror, it is more psychological slash supernatural thriller," he says, "it was always supposed to leave a lingering effect and be quite hypnotic, about a guy either spiralling into insanity or being taken by the supernatural. When I present it at film festivals and I tell people that it's a slow burn and just to relax into it and enjoy, they have a way better response because they're not expecting somebody to run out with an axe and chop Eric's head off!"

The film has also been described as having an eco message, but it wasn't intended as any kind of manifesto and is instead inherent to the story. "Yes, things like Shell-to-sea, fracking for shale gas and talk of selling Coillte to the Chinese were all going on in the background when we were coming up with an idea for a film but it is more about a natural environment protecting itself from being cut down to be turned into a shopping centre. Potentially that's environmental to a certain extent but it's not exactly saying Save the Whales."

At 37 Lorcan is of a generation that has a different relationship with his nationality, "Being Irish doesn't mean you have to have a priest in the film!" but he also wanted to mine Irish folklore like Japanese and Korean horror has done. "We haven't really done that even though we have all of this amazing stuff." Without Name taps the myth of the Fairy, spirits that have been trapped by nature, the notion that trees and fungus communicate, and uses a recipe from Irish and English witchcraft, "It was flying ointment which they used to brew up and absorb through semi permeable membranes in their bodies. But we decided to go with the tea option!"

Lorcan explains that the advantage of a low budget film is that it can be a little bit experimental, "The nature of the story called for that because dealing with the spirit world and the psychological you can't be too on the nose either because nobody can be sure. People who see ghosts, are they losing their mind or are they seeing ghosts? And that's why the supernatural and the mentally ill have always had this association." There were a lot of characters in Eric's circumstances in Ireland post-boom, "I guess everybody feels that they could lose it at times, people were under such massive financial pressure, were living beyond their means and Eric is that kind of a character and that is why he is taking on that job which he wouldn't normally have done if he didn't have to support his wife and kid."

There were similar themes in his well-regarded short film Foxes, about a couple stuck living in a post boom ghost estate. His next feature, Vivarium, "an aquarium for humans," will be bigger budget but it too will be "pretty dark". Not surprisingly then his own taste in films, the inspiration for a lot of what he makes, runs to the more obscure. In person however he is chatty and laughs often and it was in comedy that his career began. From Dublin, he studied graphic design in Dun Laoghaire and while there he met his wife Brunella Cocchiglia who produced Without Name and Foxes and will executive produce the next film. "We have worked together, whether we meant to or not, since college, so 17 years. She helped me with my final year projects and we didn't know that that was producing and directing at the time and it just morphed into that."

After college Lorcan started getting into motion graphics and animation and followed that with a job as a runner in Zeppotron, Charlie Black Mirror Brooker's company. He began writing, filming and editing his own sketches.

He returned to Ireland in 2004 and set up Lovely Productions. It coincided with the arrival of a certain newfangled video-sharing website. "YouTube was brand new so I sent them some of my short films and they posted them, at the time they didn't have much decent content so the films got loads of views and then ad agencies saw that stuff so then I started getting asked to do commercials. It was sort of an organic process."

Any Irish TV viewer will be familiar with Lorcan's work, the driving instructor who finishes at 5 leaving his student stranded, the plumber heading to Torremolinos, selling a husband online (Is he a goer?), Mr Tayto dispensing advice about see-through leggings, would it be weird to get just one HD brow? They were all directed by Lorcan Finnegan.

Making movies however was always his ultimate goal and it is proving as enjoyable as expected. "It's really hard but it's great fun once you actually get behind the camera and start working. Having the pain on a commercial job is one thing, but making movies or short films is just an artistic endeavour and I don't mind any of the pain!"

Without Name is now showing at the IFI and Light House

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