Running Time: 85 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – Official HCF Artist
Love it or Loathe it, The Blair Witch Project gave the horror genre a massive boot up the rear end when things had taken a turn for the worst. The project was a success before even being released. The production team created a clever, online promotional strategy, a ‘missing’ poster campaign of the three, young cast members and ‘word of mouth’ circulated from eager filmgoers as to whether the footage was real. With a micro small budget, a simple setup, the results were incredible. Without any onscreen violence, gore makeup, onscreen villain or obvious jump scares, the Blair Witch Project created an overwhelming feeling of dread and tension. It left the viewer uneasy and disorientated as to what they have just witnessed. Although some fans of the Found Footage genre will cite The Last Broadcast as the greatest of its kind, it was the success and box office appeal of Blair Witch that kick-started the movement. For the most part the quality of these movies has been high with REC, Troll Hunter, Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield all released over the last decade or so. A Night in the Woods is effectively a British version of the Blair Witch Project and is based on an eerie camping experience by director, Richard Parry.
Brody Cartwright (Scoot McNairy – Monsters) and his girlfriend, Kerry Hastings (Anna Skellern -The Descent: Part 2) have planned a camping holiday in Dartmoor’s Wistman’s Woods. They first uplift Kerry’s cousin, Leo (Snow White and the Huntsman). When both men meet for the first time, Brody appears to take an instant dislike to Leo. The trio set off on their trip and stop off at a local pub. As they mingle with the locals, Brody is warned that the woods are prowled by a ghost called the Huntsman who likes nothing better than to track, mark (with an etched cross on the forehead) and hang witches, sinners or anyone else unfortunate to get in it’s way. One sinister and unfriendly elder, resembling Mick Fleetwood, adds that they should think twice before staying there.
As the group arrive at their destination, Brody continues to question Leo about his past and why Kerry has never mentioned his name before. There seems no basis as to why he should be so wary of the young male. Tension mounts between each of them and it becomes clear each of the trio has a secret to hide. Yet these secrets will pale in significance to the horror that awaits each of them in the woods.
A Night in the Woods has a lot of things going for it. Firstly the cast are all top class in their respective roles. Richard Parry follows the same strategy as the makers of Blair Witch and allows the cast to improvise many of the scenes. During the making of the film, he explains how he specifically targeted young leads that were strong in this field. This is most evident in the cameraman and narrator, Brody (McNairy) who communicates with the audience for the first half of the story. Having sided with the character early on, your sympathy soon switches to Kerry and Leo before all hell breaks loose. As the plot develops we learn more about Brody’s tainted past, the reasons for his distrust of Leo and the true nature of Kerry’s relationship with her cousin.
Arguably the first half of the movie is more interesting than The Blair Witch Project because the characters are more engaging and less annoying. Parry fleshes out his characters with flashbacks and previously recorded video footage. The story does follow a very similar pattern to its predecessor, with the country folk warning of the curse of the Huntsman rather than mysterious Elly Kedward. There are some interesting musical interludes too with some local musicians performing in the bar and Skellern proving to be an able vocalist during a campfire singsong.
The movie’s letdown is in delivering the necessary scares and originality when things go wrong for the trio. Although there are a few uneasy and carefully crafted moments (i.e. a chase scene involving Kerry and a couple of subtle visual scares), there is nothing that you haven’t seen already from all the other found footage entries circulating on DVD. This is not a big surprise with a new entry to the Paranormal Activity series being released every year or so. A Night in the Woods maintains a good pace throughout and the story never boring. It is a solid if not extraordinary addition to the genre.