THE DARK FOREST (2013)
aka THE HUNTED
Written and directed by Josh Stewart
On DVD from 101 Films
Hunter Jake and his friend, former news cameraman Stevie, venture off into the dense West Virginia woodland in the hopes of hunting down and slaying Movie Star, an elusive buck deer that has often been captured on hunting cameras in the area. Recording footage of their three day stint at the privately owned land, Jake and Stevie hope to capture enough video to create a pilot episode for their planned TV series. As night falls, the duo realise there’s something other than deer and wildlife hiding in the woods, something sinister and beyond this world…
Purported to be based on a true story, found footage style horror THE DARK FOREST sees writer and director Josh Stewart (The Neighbour) also star as lead character Jake who’s desperate to make his dream TV series a reality. A skilled hunter armed with bow and arrows, his plan to take down Movie Star will make his pilot episode a sure-fire hit to be commissioned by a TV network. With experienced cameraman Stevie (Ronnie Gene Blevins) and a whole host of tree cameras, GoPro’s and the like, the duo are able to catch all the activity on film and hopefully shots of Movie Star himself. What they don’t plan on is that something else in the woods would prefer to take the starring role in their little TV pilot and its shrieks in the night are just the beginning for the keen hunters.
Sound plays a huge part in this Blair Witch style horror. Almost like the Slender: The Arrival videogame, the hunters shuffle through the woods with their cameras, carefully listening for any strange noises or rustling of the undergrowth. Much like the aforementioned videogame, these noises give the duo a headstart on any sinister activity whilst also scaring the living daylights out of the hunters and the viewer as the brain works overtime imagining what horrors lurk in the darkness. You’ve got to take your hat off to the sound department for ramping up the tension with this brilliant, effective use of audio which really sets the pulse racing!
Outside of the noises in the dark, the story of the two hunters essentially becoming the hunted is an enjoyable one thanks to the likable characters of Jake and Stevie, the latter of whom fully believes in the ghost stories told to him by the hunting lodge employees. The tense build up over the three nights as the eager Jake itches to capture his buck before they have to return home leads to an intense conclusion. Whilst it may not be terrifying in a bloodthirsty horror sense, the slow, creeping uneasiness is enough to make this reviewer think twice about entering the woods at night.
With decent performances from the two leads and an entertaining script that doesn’t mind referencing pop culture, Josh Stewart has shown that he is capable of both leading and crafting a horror film. Though I wouldn’t say THE DARK FOREST was innovative or fresh, Stewart has taken a well-worn genre and told it from a particular set of eyes, creating an intriguing, convincing piece of horror cinema in the process.