Lip Hook takes some of the best conventions of the British folk horror genre and uses them to perfect effect. Outsiders becoming stranded in a remote village? Check. Pagan worship amongst the populace? Check. Lord of the village at the center of possible villainy? Check. Locals who appear to be keeping a secret amongst them? Check. A dark circumstance in the past that makes the village different? Check. A minister who drifts from Christianity? Check.
But none of this is to say that the story uses these markers as cliches, but launching points to make some different choices within the genre it’s riffing from.
The village of Lip Hook itself reminds me of Centralia, Pennsylvania, an almost completely abandoned town with an underground fire in a coal mine that has been burning for more than half a century. Hell on Earth is an apt description of that real-life situation, but in Lip Hook, the emotional perception has escalated into a physical one that requires its residents to wear protective masks to live within the apparently deadly atmosphere, the result of a mine collapse after drills accidentally uncovered an underground lake that spews filth into the atmosphere, particularly enveloping a factory on the edge of the marshy area where the mine once stood. It’s the stench of a destructive patriarchy infecting all crags and corners of the community. There is apparently a real place called “Liphook,” but no resemblance seems obvious.
Into this scenario barrels two criminals on the run, most significantly Sophia, whose allure takes on supernatural proportions as she seduces citizens in order to gain a hold of the town’s spiritual practice for mysterious purposes. The men she seizes sexually, gaining control of their free will through some tantric mysticism. The women, she invites along spiritually, aligning her practice with that of the ancient local cult of Elen, the Horned Goddess, a mother goddess religion whose followers were persecuted and believed destroyed in the 1600s, but who have clung on through the eras secretly.
Within these circumstances are swirled several citizens of the town, including striking workers and a couple kids trying to figure out the fates of their mothers, and all careening toward a celebration of the Pagan holiday Imbolc, which traditionally marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and is typically accompanied by efforts to reconnect with nature.
As the sides begin to clash, there’s a third aspect brought into the mix — the idea that the modern iteration of Elen worship, as filtered through the efforts of Sophia, is a tainted one that is not in line with the traditional practice. And as people are forced to choose sides, to be against either the industrial patriarchy or the natural matriarchy, there is a sense that both have been perverted over time and neither might be the right choice at all.
David Hine’s script presents all these dark themes and events and manages to inject some humor into it, but Mark Stafford’s artwork really makes the difference in balancing that thin and difficult line where the narrative draws you in with its urgency but also keeps you at enough distance that the satire remains apparent. His drawing are alternately cartoonish and darkly rich, and work to create a tone that is singular to this work, which is ultimately about moving beyond the past, beyond traditions, about understanding that clinging to what was because it always was and therefore should always be is an action that leads to degradation, decay, and disintegration.
In its critique of our insistence on clinging to the old — old ideas of what makes a society prosperous, old ideas of what brings a society in touch with the universe — Lip Hook also takes the traditional ideas behind the folk horror genre and turns them in on themselves for a more modern purpose.