The pitch is simple: teenagers take magic mushrooms in the woods, bad things happen to them.

To flesh it out, it goes like this:

Tara (Lindsey Haun, JOHN CARPENTER'S VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED) travels by plane to Ireland with her fellow American friends Holly (Alice Greczyn, THE DUKES OF HAZZARD), Lisa (Maya Hazen, SHUTTER), and their respective boyfriends Troy (Max Kasch, RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR) and Bluto (Robert Hoffman, SHE'S THE MAN).

They've been invited to the Emerald Isle by Jake (Jack Huston, NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH), who met them while attending college in America. He's now returned home, and wants his "yankie junkie motherfucker" friends to join him in a weekend of drug-taking.

They're all up for a few "shrooms", aside from goody-two-shoes Tara. She confides in Lisa that the main reason she's there is because she fancies Jake, and is hoping something will happen. She has no interest in taking drugs, but will do so if that's what it takes to fit in.

On their way to a nice camping spot in Jake's knackered old van, the group run over a goat. When they get out to inspect it, they're met by two grinning inbred hicks brandishing axes - Bernie (Sean McGinley, THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY) and Ernie (Don Wycherley, VERONICA GUERIN) - who want the goat for their dinner.

The group continue into the woods undeterred and set up their tents for the evening. Jake gives them a low-down on which mushrooms to take and how to take them - even banning mobile phones to the van for the weekend, as they can apparently be dangerous items to have on you while tripping.

Later that afternoon the group embark into the woods in search of mushrooms. Jake warns them of a particular mushroom with a black nipple on its head - the death's head mushroom. This, he tells them, is potentially lethal. Intrigued, Troy asks what would happen if you didn't die after taking one. Jake informs him that legend has it that survivors have been able to communicate with the dead, receive premonitions, shape shift etc.

Unfortunately Tara doesn't hear this and, upon finding a death's head mushroom, pops it into her mouth. The next thing she knows, she's convulsing on the ground and Jake is saving her with the kiss of life.

Tara's convinced that she foresaw Jake saving her life with a kiss, but neither he nor Lisa are ready to entertain her claim. Instead, they tuck into her sleeping bag that night to sleep the effects of the drug off, and then join the rest of the group for a chilling story round the campfire.

Jake tells the group about an old Young Offenders' Centre not far from them, where years ago the kids were mistreated by a sadistic man known as Black Brother. One vengeful kid - the Lonely Twin - avenged his brother's murder by spiking Black Brother with death's head mushrooms. This resulted in the massacre of 78 kids - only one feral child raised with dogs was known to have survived. But, Jake continues, the bodies of the Lonely Twin and Black Brother were never found - and are said to roam the woods during shroom season �

Suitably shaken, the group decide to retire for the night. In their tent, Troy and Holly begin to get it on but are disturbed by noises outside. Troy accuses Bluto of spying on them and a fight breaks out, leaving Troy with a bloody nose. Tara is disturbed, as she had a dream that Troy was going to get hurt.

Bluto returns to his tent with Holly, but when they fall out he's kicked out for the night. Swallowing a bowl of shroom soup, Bluto takes a stroll into the woods while the others sleep.

After enjoying a potty-mouthed conversation with a talking cow, Bluto chases after an attractive brunette luring him further into the woods. When he finally reaches her, she stoves his head in � or does she? In actual fact, it appears he may have hallucinated his demise, as Tara finds him talking to the cow, just like minutes earlier.

But � was Bluto's death a hallucination, or another of Tara's premonitions?

The next morning when Bluto is missing, Tara becomes increasingly convinced that harm has come to him. After all, as she tells anyone who will listen, she saw it in a dream.

When the group realise their mobile phones have been taken from the van - by, they suspect, Bluto - they split up and start searching for him in the woods. All the while, Tara appears to still be slightly tripping - seeing minute dreamy visions of her friends being chased or dying, and repeatedly spying the figure of Black Brother in the distance �

SHROOMS tries to add something a little different to an already over-populated horror sub-genre - teens terrorised in the woods - in that it throws in the novelty of these victims being high on magic mushrooms. Therefore they (and we) don't always have a clear perception on what is real and what is imaginary. To an extent, this device works reasonably well.

But it doesn't work well enough to disguise the fact that, beneath this trick, SHROOMS is pretty derivative fare with not much originality to get by on. It echoes FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE BURNING and MANIAC at various points (most notably the campfire tale scene), and presents characters that fall depressingly in line with the dumb sex-obsessed American teens that make up the cast of seemingly every slasher film these days. Even the inclusion of Bernie and Ernie - of course, they come back into the film during it's second half - is annoyingly familiar ground: a local variant of the rednecks who populate too many an American slasher flick.

The script does have occasionally funny moments, although SHROOMS is not the outright comedy that it's title or premise may suggest. It's darker in tone than I'd expected, and arguably the better for it.

Despite the unforgiving tone, it must be said that SHROOMS is relatively light on gore (the DVD cover states this is the "Unseen Edition" - so God only knows how tame the theatrical cut was). It's also severely lacking in tension or suspense. This is partly to do with the irritating overuse of Tara's 'visions' rendering it unclear as to whether any threat is immediate or merely a potential. But the lack of tension is largely down to the annoying, overly flashy editing. At times this looks more like a music video than a horror film.

In line with that is the nice but clinical look of the film. It's superbly shot, making great use of the attractive Irish outdoors. But there's no menace to the look of the woods, which obviously there should be.

Performances are adequate if unremarkable throughout, while Paddy Breathnach's (I WENT DOWN) direction resorts to lame jump-shocks here and there instead of piling on the horror. All in all, aside from a couple of giggles and a modicum of the red stuff, SHROOMS disappoints with an unoriginal storyline, weak villains and a thoroughly predictable ending.

The disc is a good one though. The film is presented uncut in it's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and has been enhanced for 16x9 TV sets. Images are generally strong, with sharp contours and nice deliberately muted colours. Contrasts and blacks are good, with only a couple of night scenes appearing a little soft.

The English audio is available in 2.0 and 5.1 mixes, both of which offer a well-balanced and impressive use of speakers. Optional English subtitles are available.

Animated menus include a scene-selection menu allowing access to SHROOMS via 12 chapters.

The main extra on the disc is a feature-length audio commentary track from Breathnach, in conversation with screenwriter Pearse Elliott and producer Paddy McDonald.

They offer an engaging commentary track which sees Breathnach take the lead, offering a wealth of sincere information relating to the on-location shoot. He says "y'know" far too many times and there are a few too many pregnant pauses, but by and large it's well worth a listen.

Next up is a good selection of cast and crew interviews, which can be watched individually or all at once by selecting the "Play All" option. These last 33 minutes in total.

A Behind-The Scenes featurette provides 16 minutes of on-location footage, fly-on-the-wall style.

17 minutes' worth of deleted scenes / bloopers follow, which include the alternative endings alluded to by Breathnach in the commentary track. These are presented in non-enhanced timecoded widescreen.

Finally, there's the original 2-minute theatrical trailer.

All extras come equipped with optional English subtitles.

SHROOMS isn't perfect, nor is it particularly memorable. It is fun at times though, and there are a lot of worse genre films coming out of America at the moment. Ignore the stupid title; SHROOMS isn't as inane as it sounds. It's worth a look, if perhaps not a buy.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Sony UK
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review