Murder in the Woods (2017)

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Murder In The Woods

Murder in the Woods (2017)
Directed by: Luis Iga
On Digital now

A group of teenagers holiday in a mysterious cabin in the woods. But things go from bad to worse. Their car breaks down, and not because the narrative has packed six characters into a five seater car.  They have no reception, until the plot mandates the arrival of creepy texts. And gosh darn it, isn’t it just their luck that the cabin is made out of jumpscareium. A dark secret emerges and they must fight for their lives.

I wanted to like this film. I mean, who doesn’t love a good “Stabbening” flick set in a forest. The film is called “Murder in the Woods” after all. That certainly set my expectations. Disappointingly, most of the murders happen indoors. The first victim is in the woods, and a guy goes under a car to try and get it going again when the vehicle collapses, crushing him, but that’s technically in the driveway and clearly demarcated from the spooky wooded area.

Two of the main problems is the script and the acting. Horror films are usually the launching pad for new actors to start their careers. Emily Blunt appeared in “Wind Chill”, a far scarier film than this, and who could forget Henry Cavill in Hellraiser 8 (the internet one!) Here, the cast are weaving straw from straw. The dialogue is clunky to the point that only a great actor could turn it into gold (where’s Tim Curry when you need him!). Unfortunately the main cast live down to the material. It’s not even enjoyable the way “The Room” is.

Dialogue you can expect will go like this: “What was that?”, “That was my foot walking?”

Why singular? He has two feet!

“No one can hear you. Not even the voices in my head!”

How in cosmic reality does that work? Are the voices in his head deaf? If so, how can they meaningfully manipulate him into doing their bidding?

“Whoever this is, we’re not scared of you!”

Shouted out into the woods from the cabin’s porch after the Sheriff has been taken out by a sniper!

My personal favourite is final girl Fernanda’s “Leave me alone!” whimpered to the villain after he has killed all her friends and is banging at the door Jack Torrance style. Sure, that’ll convince him.

I feel like I’m forced to talk about cleavage. “Mammaries in the Woods” is a film where two of the lead actresses are walking wardrobe malfunctions waiting to happen. Wardrobe-malfunction-A does not like Wardrobe-malfunction-B. Wardrobe-malfunction-B is oblivious to the point of farce. The dislike escalates to active hostility however because it happens to be Wardrobe-malfunction-A’s birthday and Wardrobe-malfunction-B was invited without Wardrobe-malfunction-A’s prior consent. How to we resolve this dilemma. That’s easy, catfight! There’s more cleavage here than I’d expect from a film released in 2024 but if we’re going down that road then there’s also a missed opportunity for comedy. Not necessarily “Scary Movie” style slapstick, but a light laugh here and there and not even to break the tension, because there is none, but the monotony.

“Monotony in the Woods” takes itself too seriously. And I feel that, if a little levity was thrown in, we might get something resembling entertainment value. There’s an inherent ridiculousness to the scenario, we’re using all the tried-and-true tropes. I mean, why not?

Ok, there is one, and only one, moment I appreciated. Chelsea Rendon’s “Chelsea” (referred to previously as “Wardrobe-malfunction-A”, and I’ve often wondered if it’s weird for an actor to play a character that shares their first name. I would imagine a different character name would act [pun] as a barrier between performance and performer – this is not me I am playing, but someone else!) and Kurt Caceres’ Raul start having a very inelegant, fully-clothed sex scene in the eponymous “woods”. Nothing says romance like a bed of outdoors autumn leaves! Raul says “your hand is cold”. Her hand is revealed to be on his shoulder and he has grabbed the cold dead hand of Wardrobe-malfunction-B who has, at this point, been murdered … in the woods!

There’s a fundamental problem with the plot. It’s a revenge story; one where our antagonist has easy access to his target. Why the elaborate holiday? This is “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” all over again. Jennifer Love-Hewitt was whisked away with a group of friends to the Bahamas where her enemy could have killed her at any point, but doesn’t. Like in the aforementioned Jennifer Love-Hewitt flick, the reveal here is played off like a twist. But neither works because if you spent half a second to  think about it, the asinine plan is overly complex with multiple points of failure; Catherine Toribio’s Celeste (the villains target) might not have gone on the birthday excursion (it wasn’t her birthday afterall), what if she was ill that day or had a job interview? I do hate plans that could potentially be knocked out of whack by anything happening to the target character.

So the teenagers get picked off one-by-one, bloodied messages are left for the survivors to find. Rinse repeat until we’re just about out of characters. There are no shots of the killer in the style of Jason Voorhees or Mike Myers hunting down their prey which implicates one of the main cast. Annoyingly, the killer has a secret accomplice who is only revealed in the finale, so you couldn’t work out who the killer was through all their conspicuous absences’ a la “Scream”.

“Murder in the Woods” sabotages itself at every opportunity.

The heroines father was having an affair with the villains mother, flashback to a love-triangle scuffle where the villains parents are accidentally shot and killed. The heroine was not responsible for any of this and the villain knows it!

The jump-scares are telegraphed too far in advance and consequently loose their bite. There’s awkward blocking, only one character is allowed to speak at a time. Multiple characters talking does not necessarily make a scene bad, in fact it can add a sense of realism. I’ll give you two examples, early in “Jaws” when multiple characters are on the ferry and early Jurassic Park when everyone is standing outside the “Raptor Pen”. These are engaging scenes with multiple things being said simultaneously. Spielberg knew what he was doing.  When everyone talks one-at-a-time, it tends to highlight the actors who are not giving dialogue. They are all waiting for their turn to speak and it’s painfully obvious. It can be hard for actors, especially nascent thespians, to continue acting when they are not delivering dialogue, but they have to do it! Especially when the camera insists on holding all actors in frame!

Now, at the risk of contradicting myself, the film’s music is worthy of mention. It’s often employed for style and atmosphere but the songs don’t always work. Some are mistimed and just plain wrong. Remember Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room”, and jarring music is played in certain scenes. Same here! And I’d make note not to play a song that contains spoken lyrics over a character speaking dialogue. It’s very distracting.

Some shots last a beat too long, making an awkward or clunky scene feel even weirder. One of my favourite moment’s is when four shots of tequila are poured, and then six people raise their glasses.

Danny Trejo’s Sheriff Lorenzo is easily the best thing about this film. His presence transcends the celluloid (or digital, in this case) barrier. He adds valuable legitimacy to a film where there is none. He’s like water to desert sand. I may need to revise my understanding of the “final girl” trope, as I don’t think this film qualifies in having one as it is Danny Trejo who saves the day, dispatching our antagonist with great aplomb.

“Murder in the Woods” is a chore to sit through. There are too many things working against this film. Luckily, after the final credits rolled, I could no longer hear this film … not even the voices in my head!

Rating: ★★★½☆☆☆☆☆☆

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