Legend of the Muse is the feature debut from John Burr, who wrote and directed this tale that brings the Leannán Sídhe, an ancient character from Irish folklore, into the modern horror genre.
Struggling artist Adam (Riley Egan) agrees to give his shifty neighbour, Hector (Max Decker), a ride out to the country to take care of some business. On a deserted stretch of road, they encounter a mysterious, beautiful woman, stalking them from the forest. Upon returning home, the woman manifests herself in Adam’s studio. She turns out to be the Leannán Sí (Elle Evans), a creature from legend who acts as muse to the creative soul, but also as the agent of their ultimate destruction.
Adam finds inspiration in the Leannán Sí, turning in work of new quality and securing a gallery showing from art dealer Valerie (Jennie Fahn). He also finds himself getting to know his neighbour Maria (Kate Mansi) better, learning in the process that the Leannán Sí has a violently protective temperament.
Traditional folk tales are always a good source of inspiration for horror movies. Recently Corin Hardy explored similarly forest bound legends in Hallow (2015) and of course there is Hellboy (2019), whose stock in trade relies almost exclusively on ancient myth and legend. The haunted painter also seems to be a weirdly common (but not very identifiable) vocation. Legend of the Muse keeps solid company with the likes of Joe Begos’ Bliss (2019), as struggling painters find inspiration via ill-advised dabbling in the supernatural; and Dan Gilroy’s Velvet Buzzsaw (2019), where a bunch of haunted paintings terrorise the Los Angeles art world.
As a horror movie, Legend of the Muse finds its ideas working for and against it. The Leannán Sí is a great concept for a monster and the movie delivers on aggressive, blood spattered kills, but ultimately can’t sustain any notion of terror from a creature that looks just like a normal person. Likewise, the fact she is mute works well early on, lending a sense of mystery to the Leannán Sí, but as the film progresses her inability to communicate lessens our perception of her as a threat and of her protective hold over Adam
Adam, too, is a bit of a blank and once again this helps and hinders the story. He does not give much away and his inscrutable motivation and perpetually forlorn expression means he can keep one foot in the anti-hero camp, particularly when dispensing with people he doesn’t like. But on the other hand, the bond between him and the Leannán Sí never really hits home when both characters are largely uncommunicative.
Still, Legend of the Muse takes a similar approach to Daniel Isn’t Real (2019) in that it’s trying something a little different with its antagonist, and there’s something to be said for that. Although not all of it works, it’s refreshing to see a different type of adversary as opposed to yet another vampire or, heaven forbid, a zombie.
Ultimately, it feels like Burr has aimed more for mood rather than exposition and while that won’t be for everyone, it still adds up to being a decent indie horror. Fans of the aforementioned Bliss and those who like their horror with its narrative on the opaque side, should give some time to Legend of the Muse.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★✩✩
‘Legend of the Muse’ is now available through Amazon.