Written and directed by Paddy Murphy
THE PERISHED focuses on a happy go lucky Irish student called Sarah Dekker and her discovery she’s pregnant – out of wedlock. Her misery starts before she even gets the chance to announce it, when her boyfriend unceremoniously dumps her. It doesn’t take long for the ‘bad’ news to reach her Catholic zealot mother, played with wicked and cruel fervour by Noelle Clarke. In a wonderful display of religious hypocrisy she rages at Sarah for the shame she will be bring on the family, more so than the sin she has committed in the eyes of God. Ejected from the family home and alone in the world, she travels to the UK to have an abortion – like many women before her – with the promise to her estranged mother never to speak of this ever again.
When she returns to Ireland, her problems are far from over. Having gone against the legal and moral grain, she loses her sense of place in the country she was born and raised. Thankfully, she finds non-judgemental solace in her gay best friend Davet. However, holed up in his parents second home, Sarah isn’t allowed the period of quiet convalescence she needs. Supernatural phenomena begin exploiting her mental fragility, and progress quickly to visitations in the night by a grotesque, devilish creature.
Local history and legend tells of babies buried beneath the house. It’s wholly unjust that it would take Sarah’s post-abortion presence to wake their collective, restless spirits - unless what she has been through is considered awful and punishable. A thesis some of Ireland – not the filmmaker – clings onto despite the progressive pressures of a younger, secular, modern-thinking populace.
Consequently, the take away from THE PERISHED, isn’t a comfortable one. The film dwells on Sarah Dekker’s sins of the flesh more than any other character. Of course narrow-minded views are aired, exposed by her friends and family’s hurtful barbs aimed at Sarah, but those people, like her vociferous, judgemental mother, don’t pay any such supernatural price for their sinful behaviour.
You hope that films like this serve to shine a light of culpability on the people who wear church doctrine...
You hope that films like this serve to shine a light of culpability on the people who wear church doctrine like a shield against legislative changes and the individual misery they continue to cause by wanting to deny a woman the right to do what she wants with her body.
The 2018 vote in favour of overturning the abortion ban in Ireland has paved the way for the government to legislate for a much more secular and liberal regime. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said: “No more journeys across the Irish Sea, no more stigma as a veil of secrecy is lifted and no more isolation as the burden of shame is gone.”
Hopefully, the future sees less need to create characters like Sarah Dekker to illustrate the inequity in the eyes of the law for an unmarried, pregnant woman in a 21st century, first world country like Ireland.
You can believe that abortion is a sin, it’s a perfectly valid view whether you’re a practicing Catholic, or not. No liberalisation by the state is meant to change your mind. However, as THE PERISHED demonstrates, if you impose that belief onto the lives of others through old laws established by a once dominant church, you create a confused moral vacuum of secrecy and lies buoyed by lesser of two evils compromise and hypocrisy. Worse still you perpetuate the persecution young women who might get pregnant out of wedlock – whether they have an abortion or not.