Writer/director Chris Baugh makes the case in his sophomore feature film that the vampire myth still has room for reinvention, and he presents a strong argument. The new paths Boys from County Hell forges in creating its unique creatures of the night are certainly interesting, but, being billed as a horror-comedy, it makes the bold decision of not engaging with this material in a continuously humorous manner for much of the run time and makes abrupt tonal shifts that don't always work. That's not to say that the movie isn't entertaining, because once things kick off it has some fun moments, but it largely suffers from not knowing when and where to focus itself.
A proper Irish story, the film takes on the myth of Abhartach, posited by some as the local folklore that might have inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula over noted citation Vlad the Impaler. Jack Rowan leads the cast as Eugene, an aloof drunkard trapped in arrested development and a small town that he can't escape, a town that is the supposed final resting place of the bloodsucker. The vampirism elements are the clear selling point of the movie, as the trailer makes clear, and the film does good work with them. We all know the vampire stories and legends, but the movement made by the film to create its own sandbox and set of rules is its strongest suit, while also leading into some of its cliche pitfalls.
Chief among those issues are moments of characters making bold proclamations akin to "That was fake, this is real!" as they try to navigate the realm of battling the undead. The meta-awareness of horror films, even ones with monsters, has been done well enough before that this type of dialogue doesn't actually call attention to the differences in the narrative's rules or some grand twist on the genre, but rather the corners that its own writers have painted themselves into. We get it, you want to do "real" people fighting "real" vampires and things are "different," but these winks at the larger genre only carry so much weight.
There are some moments of genuine surprise, however, but they're always in the arena of a more dramatic story beat. One moment in particular actually made my jaw drop because I wasn't expecting it, though it was something that had a more inherently interesting character beat than any kind of trope subversion of joke offered at any other point. Boys From County Hell should have either leaned into a fully dramatic representation or a fully silly one, and it's obvious that they were aiming for the latter, as moments like a severed leg being used as a stake or a vampire climbing up from the pole it's impaled upon prove.
The gags, or rather a lack thereof, are an issue throughout as the 90-minute film has only a handful of actual set-up and payoff-worthy laughs. Some of these jokes, however, are true gut-busters and the larger cast around Rowan elevate both the dramatic and silly sides of the coin. The tragedy is that the movie can't commit to either side in any meaningful way and it ends up feeling jumbled because of it. You can't be The Exorcist as well as Evil Dead 2, but Boys From County Hell wants to and falls short of both.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Boys from County Hell is streaming on Shudder starting Thursday, April 22nd.