Well at least they didn’t give up entirely and call it The Woods. To say this is an unoriginal film may be a minor understatement as they crib from a variety of sources and throw in evil children, abandoned houses, rape revenge and even fugitives who take a wrong turn and find themselves in the wrong movie genre. I suppose I can give them some credit for having cursed cannibal children at least, but a lot of the time this is a creatively barren story that wants to emulate better efforts without the script to follow up on some of the ideas presented. Picking up a bunch of elements and seeing what sticks isn’t the way to go about it. I’m afraid these ingredients are kinda stale.
Starting things off we get onto the road with Josef (Karl Markovics) who is on the run from the law. After stopping off to do some last minute shopping he’s told where to find a secluded part of the woods called ‘Devil’s Den’. Why does he want to get there? I have no idea. Maybe the gas station attendant just had the wrong idea. But considering the way he sort of stumbles across the location by accident it’s never explained what he wanted before things take a darker turn. The place is haunted by some sort of evil presence that the locals all seem to know about, however the name of the area isn’t actually a nickname and it’s even shown on a tourist map. Did they name it before or after the strange goings on… or is the name coincidence?
When Josef arrives it’s revealed that his car has another passenger hidden in the back, a blind boy called Alex (Toby Nichols) who seems to be the reason he’s trying to escape justice. He believes in a lot of strange rules that Josef has told him, hinting at a history of abuse that goes beyond his scarred eyelids. Maybe there’s a cult at work or perhaps there’s a deep history of trauma in the family. Again it’s never explained as the film pushes onwards to get as many sudden shocks as possible into the running time. After an incident involving caltrops, nail boards and rusty axes, Alex soon discovers what is so sinister about this off the trail piece of land.
The only resident in these parts is local ghoul Mina (Nadia Alexander) who seems to trap and slaughter anyone who wanders off the beaten path. She’s also a damaged abuse survivor but things have taken a supernatural turn for one reason or another. If it’s not obvious by now this is yet another an underdeveloped story point. Together these two unlikely friends form a bond and through a series of gruesome encounters they’ll escape their troubled pasts and become stronger people. Or at least I think that’s the idea… the script is often so messy that the disparate threads are rarely connected. It’s more of a suggestion of a storyline than an actual plot, and that’s the whole problem.
Initially it seems as though the pacing is just lethargic and all the big twists are just taking their time to arrive. There’s no dramatic escape from the police with Josef, and there are rarely any eerie suspense set pieces to keep things moving between the sudden jolts of gory violence. But in reality it’s just horribly slow and meandering without any real internal logic to hold up the few dramatic beats that do eventually show up. To be fair there’s a sense of dread in many instances and the misty desaturated visuals offer a lot of atmosphere. What it lacks is all the smaller details like solid storytelling, interesting characterisation and genuine horror chills.
Mina seems to have been turned into a monster that actively catches people in the woods and eats their flesh. Which is all perfectly fine in my book. But the story would have been resolved quickly if she actually aided Alex in some way instead of murdering police and rescue volunteers. It’s pretty confusing when she says she wants to help him get away… but she already killed the only threat and just causes more harm than good. Alex himself turns to the dark side in his own way during the third act, but this is too random and unmotivated. Their friendship is underwhelming and the idea that damaged people can sometimes turn “bad” is kind of insulting when it’s presented in such a simplistic way.
Ultimately there’s just not enough to work with here to keep the narrative moving. The reasons for the kidnap and the evil curse are never really explored and while I can appreciate a good mystery and a subtle film that leaves certain things to the imagination… this isn’t a good example of that. The performances range between mumbling monotone and outraged screeching while the desaturated outdoor visuals are often perfunctory. But it really needed to be more creative, particularly when the writers seem to be grasping for something on the level of Swedish classic Let the Right One In. They manage to hit some of the basics in terms of the production values but the rest is far too grey and too far disconnected.