The Evil Woods (2007)
After a little respite with some independent films that were comedies, dramas and a couple of thrillers it looks like the next round of prerequisite Indy horror flicks is upon us. Hopefully there will be some undiscovered gems in the lot and with ‘The Evil Woods’ there looks like there might be some potential in this latest group. Like so many of its peers this movie is rift with predictability. It is cut from the same hackney formula as most of the other flicks in this ilk. It does have a light tongue in cheek touch that goes a long way to save the day, and the film. There is a small bit of a current hot topic, the environment as part of the premise of the story. While a serial killer out to get littering twenty-somethings is not as visually effective as a single tear dripping down the cheek of a Native American, it does make its point. The writers and directors have performed due diligence in going down the Indy horror check list to make sure all the elements fans have come to expect are present. There is a group of stoners, some beautiful nubile young women who are far from shy and a deranged killer on the loose. For a setting you need isolation so here we have the deep woods. Like most flicks in this sub genre there are plenty of flaws evident but there is something that is exceedingly rare now, a glimmer of promise for better things in subsequent projects.
The script here was written by the team of Jason Melling and Aaron Harvey. Harvey also directed this opus. Both men are making their film debut in these fields. Fundamentally a group of five high school students decide it would be a great idea to go off into the woods to party. A combination of stoned students, complete isolation and alcoholic and pharmacological substances seems like a great idea. After all there would be no chance of getting caught by their parents. So off they go but little do they realize, a degree of ignorance not shared by the audience, that gruesome death is waiting for them in that wooded area. As night falls and the brew supply is dwindling rapidly the group is sitting around a camp fire when they are approached by ‘The Ranger’. He warns them about a local legend of ‘The Beer Hunter’; a crazed ecologically minded individual who kills kids like them for leaving their empty beer cans all over his pristine woods. A large part of his hatred for drunken kills is the fact that a group set his cabin on fire some years back. While some of the group is frightened by the story others feel it is just something used by adults to scare teenagers. They retire to bed and later discover that they car has its tires slashed. They have no spare and are out of cell phone range so the students are completely on their own. The ranger reappears and tells the kids he will met them at dusk but when the time comes he is no where to be found. The writers address a few twists that are now required in a horror flick. With every teen in the country in possession of a cell phone you now have to explain why they can’t just call for help. A remote wooded area does well for this dilemma. Next, the movie has to expect a good dose of suspension of belief from the audience. Either the teens are completely clueless about something as simple as a camping trip or they are stupid beyond belief. In either case it is difficult for the writers to get the audience emotionally invested with the characters. All too often you want them to just get killed and get it over with. To their credit Melling and Harvey managed to provide a script that was able to pull the audience in and make us feel a little sorry for the victims.
As a first time director Harvey does very well in creating the proper, sinister mood without going too far over the top. He uses the first act of the movie to set the stage and provide what exposition is possible under the circumstances. While the script is better than many films of this type it is naturally not very deep. Harvey takes the framework of the story and lets the actors build their own arcs for their characters. Most of the teens are fully formed and understandable but the two girls in a threesome are not for the most part interchangeable. Harvey’s direction is straightforward and to the point. He seems to realize that this is not going to be listed in the annals of great cinema so he goes in the direction of just having fun and letting the audience in on the joke. While not a horror comedy there are enough lighter moments to prevent the film from dragging in the non-murderous scenes.
The film opens with a little taste of what is to come. Jacob (Paul Shaw) and his girlfriend Tatiya (Tamara Czartoryski-Borbon) are in the woods drinking whiskey and beer. He is trying to teach her about beer hunting, basically Russian roulette with a shaken beer can. Just as things are getting more amorous Jacob hears something in the woods. Soon both are dispatched quickly and quietly with an ax. We then shift to the main story with a shot of a school. John (Brad E. Smith) is loading his car for a two day getaway while his girlfriend Jamie (Matilda Saliasi) sits in the front complaining. In the back is John’s other girlfriend Mindy (Georgia Smith). This is the new millennium, Archie no longer has to choose between Betty and Veronica; he can have them both at the same time. It looks like John is trying to make this a reality. The girls are not happy that Steve (Dedan Donovan) and his girlfriend Shannon (Ivory Dortch) are pulling up. They do not want the other couple to join them for the weekend. Steve is John’s pot dealer so he can’t be too rude without running the risk of cutting off his own supply. It is not Steve they object to its Shannon; they feel she is too straight but Steve assures John that she smokes and is cool. Steve offers to drive and has his own weed so the five go off on the trip. Since the story has been covered here already lets just say that once the killing begins this movie offers a very good splatter ratio.
The gratuitous nudity is kept to a minimum here so sorry guys you actually have to watch the movie. One thing that is notable is the female cast is attractive, especially Ms Dortch, is attractive but not the usual Hollywood silicone enhanced types that prevail in this sort of movie. The cast looks a bit too old to be in school but that is spar for the course. The cast looks like regular people; this helps the audience identify with them and their plight. The cinematography is excellent as is the use of color and lighting. This film works.
The DVD is released by Lion’s Gate as part of their ever growing quest for little Indy films. This is one that will actually entertain so give it a chance; it deserves it.