CinÉireann / Issue 9 31
In fact, the television show Westworld ties this particular anxiety back into the broader repurposing of the western by creating a brutal science-fiction western in which the powerful and rich literally build a new world that they might colonise, only for the inhabitants of this new world to turn upon them to avenge the destruct wrought. Science-fiction stories and westerns were once cultural buttresses for imperialism and colonialism. However, the last decade has seen these old stories repurposed as postcolonial and even anti-colonial narratives.
“Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
Black ’47 arrives at an interesting moment in Irish cinema.
The past decade has been good for production and distribution of films in Ireland, particularly for Irish writers and directors reaching prominence on the global stage. Once won the Best Original Song Oscar in 2008. Room won the Best Actress Oscar in 2015, and earned nominations for Best Film, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Sing Street picked up a nomination for Best Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes in 2017. Irish animation has done especially well, with Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea and The Breadwinner each earning a nomination for Best Animated Film.
However, recent years have seen an explosion in genre filmmaking in Ireland. In particular, the country has produced a number of popular and successful horror movies. Black ’47 opened in Irish cinemas opposite The Nun, a film directed by Corin Hardy. A British director, Hardy had cut his teeth directing The Hallow, a horror movie filmed in Ireland. When Hammer Horror attempted to revive their brand at the start of the decade, one of their earliest projects was Wake Wood, a horror set and filmed in Ireland starring Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle.
These are ambitious productions, often involving international talent and production partners. The Cured depicted a post-apocalyptic Ireland coping with the aftermath of a horrific zombie outbreak, starring Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Ellen Page. It opened relatively wide, demonstrating an appetite for this sort of fare. More to the point, it was consciously steeped in the tropes and trappings of zombie horror cinema, using the familiar genre elements to tell a very conscious and political narrative exploring themes that apply very specifically to contemporary Ireland.
Indeed, contemporary Irish genre cinema is often rooted in allegory and metaphor, adopting a more abstract approach to modern anxieties. In particular, land is a recurring source of uncertainty and dread in Irish horror cinema. Irish horrors like Without Name and The Dig both suggest a broad cultural mistrust of the Irish landscape, a fear that the land will betray its inhabitants, that it might swallow us instead of feeding.
The Irish have a unique relationship with the idea of land and land ownership, for reasons both cultural and historical. Ireland has existed in its current incarnation for less than a century, having spent a much longer time as a subjugated part of the British Empire. Even today, the island is divided by boundaries resulting from the scars of plantation and oppression, the dispossession of the Irish from their own land and the replacement of them with an upper-class British aristocracy. This anxiety simmers at the foundation of the old house in Brian O’Malley’s The Lodgers.
This history of dispossession and usurpation perhaps explains why land ownership is so important to Irish people, particularly when compared to continental Europeans. Ireland has never been comfortable with the idea of renting for life, no matter how common the practice might be in countries like France or Germany. This explains the Irish preoccupation with the housing market and with property prices. It is a desire to assert ownership of the land, control of it.
These anxieties mirror and invert American fears about land and home. The home is a frequently a source of horror in American cinema; think of the ubiquity of home invasion or haunted house horror as a genre, represented by films as diverse as The Open House, The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, The Conjuring. American horror is frequently about trying to assert control over the land, to prove that it belongs to the settlers. This is why “wrong turn” movies like Deliverance or The Hills Have Eyes are so popular, tapping into the fear that the continent is still a wilderness.