WITHOUT A NAME (2016) is an Irish ecological horror film that both engages and, well, frustrates. Eric is a land surveyor having a mid-life crisis. He accepts an assignment in a remote forest, happy to get away from his wife and son, who clearly resent him. He’s remote and having an affair with a much younger student, who joins him on the trip as his assistant.
As he surveys the forest, it increasingly gets on his nerves. Sometimes, it appears animated and either inviting or malevolent, other times trying to communicate in some way. When his equipment is damaged, he gets angry. This is an uptight guy who hates losing control, making his chemistry with his young student awkward at best (and the viewer wonder what she’s doing with him), and resulting in him wanting to impose order on everything around him. The previous occupant of the cabin where he’s staying left behind a journal titled, KNOWLEDGE OF TREES, documenting philosophical musings and homegrown potions made from plants in the neighborhood. The man apparently went mad and disappeared, a madness that appears to be infecting Eric as well as he grows increasingly frustrated.
In the end, he will have to give up control to impose what he thinks is control–to solve the mystery–but it carries a cost.
I’m honestly not sure what to make of WITHOUT A NAME. The acting is good, the dialogue just right, the core mystery of the forest engaging. I enjoyed the film but found it a bit tedious as I often do art house-type films, and Eric is simply a hard guy to get behind as a likeable protagonist. This is a film that is character driven, though the protagonist is distant from us, and one interpretation is the forest isn’t strange at all, but simply Eric is going insane. I wish had been a bit more plot driven, in that I liked how the director played with the strangeness of the forest (using interesting visual and sound effects) and wished there were more to the exploration of that mystery than what was given. The payoff at the end is fairly straightforward and basic horror, satisfying but nothing extraordinary.
Overall, I give this one a B.