Woods, The


May 31, 2009

The Plot: Heather Fasulo (Agnes Bruckner) is a troubled young lady. She simply can not stand authority figures and does everything in her power to take them down a notch. However, this attitude has got her into a fair amount of trouble and that’s why she’s headed to Falburn Academy, a boarding school for young women. Once there though, she begins to wish she never started any of the trouble that upset her mother the way it did. She’s an immediate outcast to most everyone, and the teaching staff treat her like some kind of vile creature unworthy of their attention. The only thing that keeps poor Heather sane is the meeting of her new friend Marcy, the one girl at school that actually seems to have any sense in her head. The rest all just bully the two of them. Things grow more worrisome as Heather begins to have nightmares on a regular basis, with the woods whispering to her and visions of a young girl. With this and several students coming up missing, just what is Heather in for while staying at Falburn?

The Review: I tell you, it doesn’t feel at all like six years since Lucky McKee burst onto the horror ‘scene’ with his dramatic and utterly intriguing debut May. Seems like just the other day we were all posting on internet message boards about Angela Bettis and this new director with such a poignant take on horror from the female perspective. Little did we know that the man would sort of define this part of his career in just that field. With May, his Masters of Horror contribution Sick Girl and this film here The Woods, McKee shows a tremendous knowledge into this new area within horror. His study on this strange feminine side of horror, with his strong female leads and bombastic or bizarre leading ladies helped solidify his voice. Although May, his breakout debut might not have twisted the entire horror genre on its ear – it took those feminine qualities and delivered a film that seemed like few that had come before it. With The Woods, McKee’s long-shelved bigger budget follow up, he wasn’t able to quite deliver as refreshing of a film – but still managed to craft something that shows off all of his unique talents while also delivering a love letter to much of his horror influences. Something you know us horror fans can’t resist.

The Woods isn’t what I would call groundbreaking, unlike May which caught many of us offguard when first released, The Woods is generally just Lucky playing the genre straight up and doing a very good job of it. The influence that Dario Argento’s Suspiria had on the film had to be massive, from the general plot synopsis you can probably already tell that. Although Lucky doesn’t try and take a bite out of Argento’s style, the Argento influences emanate throughout every grame. Truly, any supernatural horror film taking place at a girl’s school owes at least some kind of debt to Argento’s horror classic. McKee manages to keep his film feeling fresh however, by not tackling anything directly similar to Suspiria and instead focusing on the relationships bound between parents and child. This is where I think The Woods found it’s strongest footing, as the sequences between Bruce Campbell and Agnes Bruckner towards the end of the film were really heartwarming and helped solidify the entire film through these tense but complex relationships. I have to say, we’re of course talking about a horror picture here so it isn’t an overly complex piece of material but without a doubt I would say these two characters and their relationship were favorite aspects of the film for me.

Did I mention that Bruce Campbell was utterly great in this? Well, it’s a small role, but for the fanboys out there you’ll be proud to see Bruce playing a character who isn’t arrogant, stupid or silly – but a caring father put into extreme circumstances. For a character who doesn’t speak at all in his first few minutes of airtime it’s great to see him come back later in the film and utterly steal the show. The entire cast are all excellent in their roles however and Lucky’s script is tight and filled with great back and forth dialogue. The bits between Agnes Bruckner and her bullies are usually quite humorous in particular, as the juvenile insults tend to fly. Still, the real question at this point isn’t whether this is a well made film – but is it a good HORROR film? In my opinion, yes, it is. Although some of the spookier moments seem to be a little drawn out, I think there’s a lot of spooky things happening for The Woods. McKee handles the atmosphere with ease and delivers a very tense and suspenseful ride. However, the only problem I had with the film was by just how much it followed along genre staples. Although it was a surprise to see Lucky break out the gore that is unleashed in the latter portion of the film, the film plays out about how you would expect it would just from watching the trailer. Don’t let that detract you from seeing it however, it is a very solid three out of five which is above average (remember, I count zero as a rating too) and McKee is a filmmaker to keep an eye on. You won’t want to miss his career as it unfolds.

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