The Woods review by The Grim Ringler

The Woods

One of the worst fates that can befall a film is to be relegated to video with no theatrical release, little to no promotion, and worst of all, to be a genre film. Why is it so bad for genre films? While people will seem to rent any damned thing out there seriously, have you ever watched one of those Scarecrow movies that they keep making? Who keep giving these people funding? its awfully hard to make any real waves when youre one of say, five other horror movies appearing on video store shelves at once. Hell, I see these movies coming out and I for one never rent a damned one of them because most time the movies are crap. So say youre director Lucky McKee, youre hot off of May, which made a decent splash with horror fans and critics, and youre one of the big hopes for horror now. Great. So you make a movie with Bruce Campbell in it, as well as a legit female co-star and you fill out the rest of the film with pretty young women who are staying at a boarding school. Should be, at least, enough to warrant some interest and a theatrical release. Or not. The movie gets in a fight with M. Night Shyamalan over the title (The Village lost out on the title fight, though it mattered little) and after that, things only get worse. The movie is made, has some so-so reviews and just when its getting to be near to the release date its pulled. Ok, happens a lot, no big deal. A new date is set and its pulled again. What? Over and over until finally its pulled altogether and is doomed to sit on a shelf until late 2006, when it will get a video release, which leads everyone to wonder how very bad the movie is. Could McKee have really just made a bomb and the studio doesnt know what to do with it? Could it be that bad?

The answer is no.

Not at all.

Fact is, its damned good.

A beautiful and angry young woman is sent off to a boarding school in the hopes that it will tame her after a fight with her mother leads her to set a tree in the familys yard ablaze. The family is not well off but the girl passes a special test and earns a scholarship, something she doesnt want in the least. Its the nineteen-fifties and the world for women is not very wide open, and surrounded by strange teachers and a shady headmistress, things are not going to be easy for the young woman. Things are made more difficult when one of the other girls targets her as weak and begins teasing and tormenting her. The girls anger and frustration only seems to rise as the days pass and its all she can do to remain there. One night, having had enough, she does leave though, running into the forbidden woods that surround the school. As she is in the forest though she begins to hear voices, see things, and eventually realizes she may not be alone in the woods and that she isnt safe. When she returns she is told of three young girls who had once appeared at the school from the woods, three girls who were said to be witches and who enchanted the other girls at the school at the time. All of this chills Heather (Agnes Bruckner), who has been hearing voices in her head since her arrival at the school and who is starting to believe something is very, very wrong there. As girls begin disappearing, and Heather starts doubting her own sanity, the only thing she can be sure of is she has to get away from the school before its too late, though it may already be too late for her.

A wonderfully done and beautifully shot film, its an utter shame that The Woods was essentially abandoned by its parent studio. Heck, the DVD doesnt even really have any Special Features, something unheard of in modern DVD releases. No, this is not a fast paced action film, and there are no great, gory deaths, or torturous villains but it is a very, very scary film. The Woods is actually the first film to capture the dread and fear of a wooded area so well since Blair Witch. That isnt to say that this is a redux or anything like that film (so feel secure, BWP haters), but to say that this film nails the setting and mood. Helping with this is a cast of very good actors who seemed to have bought into the project and dont ham it up. Heck, The Chin is wonderful in the film and shows some decent range, something we tend to forget he has.

There is the feeling of a fairy tale here, one of the dark originals from the Brothers Grimm where there may be no such thing as a happy ending. There is humor, but always with an edge, always with a cost. What really kept me riveted though were these were real girls, and this felt like a real place. They were cruel without being cartoons, and were sorrowed as only the orphaned seem to be. None of these girls has a family, or, as the headmistress asks, why would they all be there?

Naturally, all is not well in the land of the woods though. The movie is great, and everything is trucking along until the finale, which comes so suddenly and which is so abrupt that I almost have to wonder if something was cut. Hell, a LOT of something. The ending fits the film, and it definitely fits the fairy tale vibe but what doesnt fit is how fast it all comes together. For a movie that was so deliberately paced, the ending comes so clumsily that it jeopardizes how you feel about the rest of the film. Almost.

I really loved this film. I wish I could give it more than a seven but the ending really does hurt the movie. Its so well made though and is such a wonderfully done horror film and one that doesnt rely on overt violence or cruelty to work that the ending didnt ruin the film for me. What I hope is that fans will get word about this film, or that fans of Bruce Campbell will check the movie out and will give it a chance. This is absolutely a more mature and better film than the very good May, and while it has its faults, this hints at a promising career to watch with Mr. McKee.


7 out of 10 Jackasses

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