Backwoods (Bosque de sombras)
Fans of Gary Oldman have to wonder why an actor of such talent and success is taking on little foreign films of at best marginal quality. He is at the top of his game with pivotal roles in two popular franchises, the new Batman films and the Harry Potter movies. Recently some little Indies have been released that do not provide material worthy of his talents. Usually he is relegated to playing parodies of characters he has done in much better fashion in previous films. This is not to say these films are bad, they just aren’t up to the usual Oldman vehicles we have gotten used to watching. The latest to make its way to DVD release is Bosque de sombras, renamed ‘The Backwoods’ for release here in the States. This thriller is an Spanish production and as far as low budget foreign made films goes it has many flaws but thanks to actors like Oldman ultimately works better than it would otherwise be the case. As I opened the screener I really thought that this would be another really bad flick that throws in a couple of recognizable names to sell. I was pleasantly surprised the despite some admittedly superficial trepidations the film is well constructed and works as a thriller. Not only can’t you judge a book by its cover the same holds true for DVDs. Is it up there with the classics in the genre? No, but it is a solid piece of entertainment.
The film was directed and co-written by Spanish born Koldo Serra. So far in his career have been a couple of short horror films that have garnered a few international festival awards. This is his first time out of the gate with a feature length film and he shows incredible promise. It seems pretty certain that Serra has been influenced more by the style of American directors than those in Europe or the Asian thriller market. He is fairly straight forward in his approach here without the usually constant artistic camera angles and lighting. His pacing, however, is more European. He takes his time laying down the story and building anticipation and suspense. Some American viewers may find this pacing painfully slow but it isn’t a fault but an artistic choose and one that should be appreciated as such. One of the all time masters of thrillers, Alfred Hitchcock was known to state that the expectation of something dreadful is better than the actual event. This is the case here, albeit not in the same league. The whole audience knows what will happen but the fun is getting there. The script was co-written by Serra and Jon Sagalá who is also making his start in feature scripts. His background is a bit odd for a thriller film. He worked on a couple of Spanish television comedies. You might think that this would result in a campy script but it did not. This story is played for thrills. The story is fairly predictable unless this just happens to be the first time you have ever seen a thriller. Serra and Sagalá hit all the mandatory requirements of the genre. There is the remote location, tourists on vacation and a close knit and very strange group of locals. Oh, yes, they also get the beautiful female lead in a wet shirt, something that always works in most genres. Even though the story lacks originality in the details this is like roller coasters ride that you have been on many times before. You may know when the dips are due but it is still fun to take the ride.
Lucy (Virginie Ledoyen) and her husband Norman (Paddy Considine) have been married for some time and are experiencing some marital problems lately. They decide to take a break and go on holiday and use that as a chance to visit with some old fiends Paul (Gary Oldman) and his wife Isabel (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón). The couple settled in her native Spain and is to show their friends around the countryside. You know that Lucy and Norman are having troubles, all the typical movie signs of matrimonial discord are there; she has constant headaches and he is very insecure. Of course the best thing for an arguing couple to do in this situation is take a long trip to a remote part of a foreign country and stay with another troubled couple. Paul has planned a hunting trip for them, well mostly for Norman. This is another great idea for couples having problems; arm them with guns and go off to the woods. As it turns out that will be the least of their up coming problems. While the men are off in a bar getting a drink Lucy is feeling the heat and goes to a nearby spigot and plays a little one woman wet tee shirt contest. A local man leers at her; what did she expect. They finally get to the hunting cabin and meet up with Isabel. After a night with a great full moon they men go off hunting while the ladies go to the lake and sit at the shore chatting and sharing a cigarette. Isabel suggests they both go skinny dipping but Lucy seems to have forgotten her little show at the bar and is suddenly modest but does give in. While exploring the woods the men come upon what seems like a deserted farm house. Inside Paul hears a muffled sound behind a chained and locked door. He forces it open to discover a deformed young girl. The men decide to help and take the girl with them back to the cabin. The women try giving her some water but the girl can only drink it on the floor like an animal; she is completely feral. The try to bring the girl to the authorities in town but the axel of their car breaks and they are forced to return home. The next morning a man from the bar, Paco (Lluís Homar) comes to their door with two of his brothers and a cousin. Here is a little tip, if you are out hunting watch out for the families in the woods especially if one of the men is introduced as Pig and Chat. They are looking for a little girl that has gone missing. Paul denies having seen her.
The film borrows heavily from classic in the genre. There are the inbreed men folk although not as bad as in ‘Deliverance’ and the local goon lusting after and raping the outsider’s beautiful wife straight from ‘Straw Dogs’. Fortunately this is sufficiently character driven so the cast can carry the film. Oldman as always is very good but underplays his role more than usual. He is excellent as the reasonable man pushed beyond reason, a part that is nicely shared by Considine. The female leads are better written than usual. Still they main thing they do is sit around looking good and smoking a lot. The cinematography is fantastic. The scenery is varied and well depicted here. The little girl is practically a MacGuffin here. She have start the conflict but overall is not vital to the appreciation of the events as they unfold.
Lion’s Gate is a great source of Indy films on DVD. They come up with offbeat offerings that most fans may have missed. This is a gem in the rough that is well worth watching.