Review: A Night in the Woods

(Richard Parry, 2011)
(Originally posted at CineVue)

Another month, another faux found footage yarn that intends to rework genre tropes through a supposedly original take on the ‘lost in the woods’ vein of horror cinema. The plainly titled A Night in the Woods, directed by documentary filmmaker Richard Parry, takes a well-worn gimmick and gives it a decidedly British equivalent, mixing knowingly conventional chills with a gritty story based on an amalgamation of true events.

Scoot McNairy (so compelling in Monsters and In Search of a Midnight Kiss, so base here) and Anna Skellern play Brody and Kerry, a couple who – along with her potentially psychopathic cousin Leo (Andrew Hawley) – go on a camping trip to explore the creepily dormant atmosphere of Dartmoor’s Wistman’s Woods, which have a legendary haunted past. Disregarding the advice of fear-mongering town folk, who believe a mysterious huntsman dwells in the woods, attacking and murdering ‘sinners’, the trio set about on their voyage of self-discovery, soon finding that their imbalanced relationships have dangerous ramifications. As faint disagreements turn to paranoia, sexual tension and violent confrontations, truths quickly begin to emerge and secrets turn deadly, while the realities of the seemingly placid woods take their bloody toll.

Evoking, inescapably, a template established by The Blair Witch Project back in 1999 – through both its stylistic nature and, indeed, plot, A Night in the Woods is a clear attempt at cashing in on the found footage technique so tediously  in-vogue within low-budget horror filmmaking, though the result is plain and mediocre. Initially playing on the increasingly squalid dynamic between the three leads, with Brody’s incessant use of his beloved camera used as a tool to depict the relationship with mournful girlfriend Kerry and unravel his suspicions of Leo, Parry eventually falls prey to the common pitfalls of working under the banner of his storytelling technique of choice. The camera is left on for no reason, sat at canted angles while the three spout expositional dialogue; characters manoeuvre it to match their own quizzical gaze etc, and while the utilisation of the infrared function creates a creepy uplift to unimaginative lines (“There’s something else in the woods!”), the nonsensicalities swiftly begin to pile up, leading to a jarringly trivial finale.

Perhaps the most surprising element in Parry’s film is how generally placid it is in attempting to deliver scares wrapped in emotional anguish, scares that lack any form of threat or tangibility. Not only are the camping troika unlikable, they are also limply sketched pseudonyms for real people and given only a handful of strangely tacked on sequences that contextualise their pasts; flashback-esque scenes that, once highlighting the character’s true idiosyncrasies, render their eventual moral and physical declines all the more tantalising.

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