THE REDWOOD MASSACRE (2014)
Directed by David Ryan Keith
Before moving down south I used to live in the same part of Scotland that this movie got made. I’ve walked the same woods where they filmed it, seen the same unnerving ruins they used for exteriors and been driven down the same winding roads our young group follow to their doom. Hell, I’ve even written my own horror script in the same location. As with 2012’s Sawney Bean (reviewed here) writer/ director David Ryan Keith’s second feature makes a lot out of north-east, effectively capturing the derelict jaggedness of its woodlands and the beauty of its hills. This largely bleak landscape provides fresh and atmospheric stomping grounds for a slasher and his slashees.
As per many of the old school 80s movies that clearly inspired it, The Redwood Massacre sees a young cast far removed from the safety of their city lives as they head to the woods to drink. Here the cause for celebration is, oddly, the anniversary of some local murders documented by a gruesome and effective flashback. Indeed, years prior a demented farmer murdered his children then ate his wife, and since then his old house has become a regular haunt for youths wanting to creep each other out. Here they get more than they bargained for, as the same killer dons an unnerving sack mask and takes them out one by one. In fairness, he doesn’t waste any time either. This movie far faster paced than most of its forerunners and halfway through its lean 80-minute running time nearly all of the cast have died violently. And die violently they do! Relying on fists as much as weapons (though the axe to the back is a favourite of his) the mad farmer spills more blood than a dozen Friday the 13ths. It’s back to basics horror that sees the red stuff fly almost to the point of parody.
The thing is, there’s simply not a whole lot of fun to be had with it. Sure it’s refreshing to see someone unashamedly make this type of ultraviolent slasher in a post-Scream age where they barely exist anymore. But some things are missing. Unlike the best 80s slashers we don’t have a cast of characters we enjoy hanging around with before their demises. Instead, they’re fairly poorly defined, save for Mark’s (Coutts) annoying ex-girlfriend Kirsty (Livingstone). Their arcs are fairly minimal, with little to invest in. This lazy approach to writing is particularly notable when a new person (ok, so we see them in a single scene at the start) is introduced very late in proceedings with extremely little to do except clumsily explain his highly typical backing story then needlessly throw himself into peril. It also doesn’t help that the characters speak in mostly functional dialogue, and sometimes in a way that seems as if they don’t understand their lines. This lull in acting is surprising given the same cast members actually sell the horror and torture sequences really well. There’s just not enough personal chemistry between them, which cheapens much of the impact it could have had. For this sort of film, the balance between pushing this movie forward vs servicing the characters is tough, and this leans more towards the former at the expense of the latter.
What’s bizarre is that in contrast to the plot’s rapid stride, nobody seems to be in a rush to escape. Rather their urgency is more akin to running late for a Wrong Turn all-nighter than getting away from an armed maniac. While yelling ‘just get out of there!’ during horrors has become something of a cliché, there’s a good case for it here. This means the last third of the movie, which is basically a prolonged chase, really drags. It’s a shame, as there’s really a lot for genre devotees to get excited about (though die-hard slasher fans may want to add an extra star), and David Ryan Keith shows a lot of potential as a filmmaker. Sadly in trying to take the traditional slasher to Aberdeenshire, this made me miss not just my old home, but a type of movie we just don’t see any longer. Truly the past is a different country. And this is less a holiday than a forgettable passing through.