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Actress Marie Ruane stars as composer Margaret in Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair's arresting short Don't Go Where I Can't Find You Ste Murray/Samson Films
dublin film festival

Emotional ghost tales and Dublin vampires: Meet the Irish directors putting their stamp on horror

The Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival celebrates 20 years when it kicks off on 23 February.

JUST WHEN YOU thought it was safe to return to your local cinema, a new generation of Irish filmmakers are hoping to scare you out of your seats with their own unique spins on the horror genre.

A bevy of young talent is on show at this year’s Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival (VMDIFF), which runs from 23 February to 6 March.

Perhaps the most arresting outing of the bunch is director Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair stunning short Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find You.

If every love story is a ghost story, as the quote goes, then the inverse is also true.

At the centre of the film is a love triangle between three women — one living, one dead and one somewhere between the two, struggling to deal with a loss.

Margaret (Marie Ruane), a composer, is haunted by grief over the violent death of her partner Freya (Stephanie Dufresne) and guilt over the truth of her relationship with her lead violinist, Louise.

She picks up her pen and baton again and sets about writing a suite of music she hopes will prove redemptive.

But conducting and recording the piece in an old, sumptuously-decorated but fundamentally creepy stately home — the very house where tragedy struck, naturally — proves fraught with terror and emotion.

A presence begins to reveal itself through the sounds of the house, the music and the recording process, sending Margaret down a rabbit hole of psychological torment.

Combining ASMR sound techniques with the dissonance and shrieking violins of the film’s score — composed by Garret Sholdice and Benedict Schlepper Connolly of the Dublin label and music company Ergodos — the film’s sound design by Garrett Farrelly is worth the price of admission alone.

“The music was a central element,” Ní Ghrioghair tells The Journal.

One of the big jumping-off points for her, she says, was Andrew Dominick’s Nick Cave documentary, One More Time with Feeling.

Filmed following the tragic death of Cave’s teenage son, the film captures the artist during the final sessions for his spare, haunted 2016 studio album Skeleton Key.

“There was something really haunting about the recording of that album — grief being sort of palpable in the air without being discussed,” Ní Ghrioghair explains.

“So I kind of developed this ghost story that was heavily influenced by my love of music and films that are about musicians and tortured musicians.”

Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find also wears its more obvious visual influences on its sleeves like Dario Argento’s 1977 art-horror classic Suspiria and its 2018 remake by Luca Guadagnino.

Filmed at Orlagh House near the Hellfire Club in Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, the setting provides a lush and colourful but unsettling backdrop for the melodrama as it unfolds.

“The house itself had all this fantastic wallpaper, which is something horror directors really love,” Ní Ghrioghair says, wryly.

“The location definitely influenced our shot list and our approach to shooting it, even the geography of it and where certain things happened. We let the house kind of become a character itself.”

The result is an eery, full-body experience of a film that hints at more great things to come for its director Ní Ghrioghair, who soon hopes to delve deeper into the horror genre with a feature-length outing.

“Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find is complementary of a feature that I am trying to get out,” she says.

“They’re both very tactile, hyper-sensory, highly emotional, horror-leaning films. I think this is complementary and demonstrates what I can do with the feature idea I have.”

A Dublin vampire story

Navigating completely alien waters from Ní Ghrioghair’s emotional short is director Conor McMahon’s comedy-horror Let the Wrong One In.

A Dublin vampire story, the feature film tells the story of Dublin supermarket worker Matt (Karl Rice), whose estranged, hard-living brother Deco (Eoin Duffy) suddenly makes a reappearance.

Their relationship had already been strained beyond breaking point by Deco’s narcissism, his addictions and his lifestyle generally.

But now, Deco is dealing with an additional complication: he’s just been turned into a vampire and he has no one else to ask for help.

Enter a trainspotting vampire hunter played by Buffy the Vampire Slayer cult hero Anthony Head, who uses his day job as a Dublin taxi driver to hunt down and execute the growing population of blood-suckers spreading throughout the capital.

Shlocky, funny and self-consciously daft (think The Young Offenders meets The Lost Boys) McMahon says Let the Wrong One In was his attempt to put a quintessentially Irish spin on the age-old vampire trope.

Vampirism has been used as an artistic metaphor for addiction for decades, he says.

“Obviously it’s there in the film but the character I was really looking at was Matt and the question of how do you deal, not necessarily just with people who are addicted, but also narcissistic people, who are just very selfish,” McMahon explains.

Matt kind of figures out halfway through that he’s actually enabling this behaviour. He’s sort of running around trying to help.And that’s the sort of that realisation — which is a realisation that I had in my own life — that I don’t have to match my behaviour to what they’re asking. 

Let the Wrong One In also shows just how fresh contemporary Dublin can look and feel when the camera is in the right hands — in this case, cinematographer Michael Lavelle’s.

Probably better known as a filming location for period pieces, the modern city and its suburbs jumps off the screen at points in McMahon’s film, thanks, not least, to a handful of eye-catching drone shots.

McMahon, a Dubliner himself, admits that even he is guilty of not fully realising Dublin’s potential as a backdrop in his films and also as a subject.

“Part of that, I think, is just the choice of films I’ve made,” he explains.

“Sometimes, because I’m in horror, it makes more sense to be down the countryside somewhere in some farmhouse or an isolated location. But actually, I very specifically wanted to make a film in Dublin.

” I always feel — especially when you’re writing a script — you need that feel for the local dialogue. So when I was writing this in Dublin, you suddenly realise you’re absorbing your whole environment: you might be walking into town or on a bus.”

“Suddenly, your everyday life gets filtered into the script,” McMahon says.

Visually, he found Dublin to be an equally rich environment, he adds.

“You could point the camera, and just whatever was in the frame would tell a particular story,” McMahon says.

“Maybe again, just because I’m from Dublin, I recognise that more easily just with the framing of shots. Like I kind of knew what I was looking for.” 

Also on show at this year’s VMDIFF is Kate Dolan’s slow-burning, Dublin-set folk horror You Are Not My Mother.

Shot in 2020, the film debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and tells the story of a young girl who, after an unspeakable tragedy, begins to slowly unravel her family’s dark history.

Dolan’s debut feature has been widely praised by critics, even scooping the Jury Prize for Best Film at the Gérardmer Film Festival in France last year.

The Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival runs from 23 February to 6 March visit to check out the festival programme and buy your tickets.

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