The Analogue Revolution | Ireland’s New VHS Horror Film Idiot Boy Will Give You More Than Just a Scare

Idiot Boy is the debut feature film from Irish director Luke De Brún. Known for his short film Sleep (2021) and a handful of music videos, De Brún also served as the editor the Irish cult hit Suit Hung. Tied Tongue (dir. Sau Dachi, 2024). 

Idiot Boy tells the story of a town called Ballymoss that has seemingly been forgotten about by the rest of the world, left to rot as its residents (who we are so lucky to meet) bumble around in their day to day lives. A young girl called Hope Thornton has been missing for over a year, but no one seems to care. Instead, the inhabitants are more concerned with their own mundane existence. That is until one resident, known only as Dan attempts to find young Hope. 

Told in a mockumentary/verité style, Idiot Boy is best described by its director as “Twin Peaks meets Harmony Korine’s Gummo with a hint of Blair Witch Project…” which is a fair analogy upon viewing. The town’s characters are interesting, albeit disturbing in their own way. We meet a wannabe grindhouse filmmaker named Dean Van Webber (which must be a Jim Van Bebber reference, surely), a careless layabout named Smokey, a gothic historian called Adrian Shine, a hermit with fake plastic baby and a  paranoid conspiracy theorist called Michael who believes there is something more cosmic behind Hope’s disappearance.

Surrounding all this is a place known as the Mossland Woods, referenced mostly by Shine and Van Webber as a place of darkness where  strange things happen and a possible source of Hope’s disappearance. Old folk tales of a witch that haunts the woodland are embraced by some but dismissed and ignored by others. Ballymoss seems to be a town collectively looking for answers and meaning,  albeit for individual gain. Some wish to know what happened to Hope Thornton, others want answers to what the purpose of their life is and others want answers as to where the next beer is coming from. 

Idiot Boy is a truly fascinating piece of film for many reasons; its VHS aesthetic, its eerie, hauntingly atmospheric score, the fact that it took four years to make and how it leaves you with a feeling that you can’t quite put your finger on. One of the film’s strongest qualities is in its craft, particularly the editing by De Brún who uses the VHS  aesthetic to his benefit, showing us something briefly before returning to the main story, using vignettes which are mind-boggling, atmospheric paintings in themselves.

You are very aware that you are watching a film that you are not in control of, like watching VHS  in the 90’s for those of us who remember. Surely, I am not the only poor sucker who has the experience of watching your favourite cartoon before it glitches out to your mother’s daily soap opera, as you come to accept that someone has taped over your most beloved  episode of Hey Arnold

VHS is very captivating format to tell a story with, not only for its trippy visuals but for its built-in tone. Analogue tape is often associated with nostalgia and memory – think of  Charlotte Wells’ debut Aftersun (2022) – and Idiot Boy feels just like that; a sort of  twisted memory or nightmare that has moments of beauty and even sadness. Often you must peer through the dirt to find out what exactly is going on (those who have seen the film will know the hallway scene I’m talking about).

De Brún is a filmmaker with a visual flare and his earlier short films are testament to that. Even with the lo-fi aesthetic this flare shines through, with frames that are impeccably and sometimes even beautifully composed. Characters are often framed quite in a stylized manner, almost like portraits in a documentary, and it’s them we feel for above all else. They’re relatable often pitiful “Idiot Boys” who are lost in a world that really doesn’t care about them, so why should they care about anything?

A monologue towards the end given by Van Webber (played by Dean Houlihan) epitomises this despair. He talks about dreams and aspirations and a recently failed film project that no one showed up to watch, despite his earlier optimism. This is his moment of realization that he is just another number, just another member of this forgotten town that has forgotten or not even listened to him. 

De Brún has picked up awards for the editing and it’s clear why. There’s a confidence in the process and a dread in the viewer as you really are not sure what he’ll show you next. But the film has also won awards for its story, picking up the Best Feature award at Belfast’s Dark Hedges Film Festival, amongst a line-up which included veteran horror director Chad Ferrin’s latest Lovecraftian tale The Old One’s (2024). Idiot Boy sits somewhere between art-house and atmospheric horror. It’s not for everyone, mainly for its loose narrative, gritty visuals and sound and the film’s ability to teeter on the tightrope of horror and mystery without being fully fledged. However, those who loved Kyle Edward Bell’s Skinamarink (2022) or more vintage visual horrors like E. Elias Merhige’s Begotten (1990) are sure to love this one.  

The ending is a kaleidoscopic analogue odyssey that reveals the film’s twist ending, which is truly unnerving and unsettling. And while the final scene is almost beautiful in a melancholic and nostalgic way, it leaves you with that feeling I mentioned earlier, a sense of the unknown and ambiguity. And that’s what good horror is, a feeling and a vibe that stays with you long after the credits. What happens when a society becomes entrenched in apathy? Find out by watching Idiot Boy or just look at the world around you right now. 

IDIOT BOY is currently screening at film festivals.