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boys from county hell review
Road workers accidentally awaken an ancient vampire in rural Ireland.

Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Chris Baugh

Starring: Jack Rowan, Nigel O’Neill, Louisa Harland, Michael Hough, John Lynch, Fra Fee, Andrea Irvine, Robert Nairne

Boys from County Hell poster

Some weeks after the Shudder release of the terrific horror Caveat, North American audiences got to enjoy another Irish surprise on the specialist streaming platform in the form of Boys from County Hell. UK/ROI viewers will have an even better deal when this horror comedy hits cinemas on August 6th. With its entertaining ghost train approach to a story based on cultural folklore, it’s an ideal film for the big screen, especially when the novelty of returning to theatres after so long is still being felt a couple of months after they reopened.

Boys from County Hell review

Writer/director Chris Baugh, who’s kind of carving his niche as a local Jeremy Saulnier with this film and the criminally underseen thriller Bad Day for the Cut, takes inspiration from iconic compatriot Bram Stoker to craft this Derry adventure of a crew of road workers who find themselves hunted by Abhartach, a legendary Irish vampire who supposedly served as the inspiration for Dracula, after they reawaken him in the middle of a drunken stupor in which they pollute his cairn with blood.

We begin in media res with a gory scene of a chatty elderly couple whose conversation comes to a frightening halt when their eyes and noses start to bleed like rivers. They’re approached by a monstrosity who devours them (something left to our imagination) as the film cuts back to the present day where Eugene (Jack Rowan) and his father Francie (Nigel O’Neill) orient us in the bare rural lifestyle of Six Mile Hill. It’s a perfect first impression of the sort of craftsmanship on display here – Boys from County Hell has excellent practical and special effects, skillfully weaved through Ryan Kernaghan’s effective cinematography, Steve Lynch’s atmospheric score and John Leslie’s immersive production design.

Boys from County Hell review

Together, the strong technical elements render a tone that is both familiar and enjoyable for genre fans – it very much feels like the sort of small-town, survive-the-night monster movies of pre-cellphone times like From Dusk Till Dawn and The Lost Boys. In the thick fog of streaming cinema, Baugh’s film may never attain the sort of same cult status of these classics but those who seek it out will be rewarded.

However, it should be noted that the horror comedy marketing label is fairly simplistic. Don’t expect many laughs. There’s certainly some humour but it’s not necessarily something in the same vein of Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, two prominent horror comedies that had broad jokes and lampooned their genres. This movie grounds its premise in reality, so it can’t really afford to be as outlandish as the aforementioned examples. However, the devotion to realism pays off in two ways.

Boys from County Hell review

Firstly, it allows us to meaningfully engage with the scenario – the backdrop of Six Mile Hill and Abhartach’s presence within this dead town give the film a sense of being lived-in, as if it’s been actually shot on the same land where the vampire once dwelled. It doesn’t feel like any old place and is embedded with a real sense of culture and history. Secondly, the protagonists are naturally realised, avoiding the sort of stock character work that plagues so many horror films. You won’t be shouting at the group for making foolish decisions and you’ll be just as surprised as them when the vampire doesn’t behave like one thinks it would.

Boys from County Hell is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2021 movie reviews