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Compared to the lame horror films that the major studios theatrically release these days, THE WOODS is superior and stands out. It easily deserves a wide theatrical but remains on the shelf for no logical reason. The film is a variation on a SUSPIRIA-type witch story and delivers genuine scares; not the trendy, superficial jarring jumps 'boos' that the reviewer above probably expects. Director McKee (MAY, SICK GIRL) delivers a deliberate pace and gradually building mood and atmosphere. Above all else, THE WOODS is character-driven with real acting! We not use to seeing that in a recent genre film. The photography and 60's period production design is flawless. THE WOODS has the true power to creep you out and you may never drink milk again!
In 2002, director Lucky McKee made a big impression with his first full
feature film, the oddball horror 'May'. Since then, he went on to
direct the best episode of the Masters of Horror series, and this
film...which has unfortunately remained in limbo for far too long. It's
not difficult to see why the film struggled to get a release, as
McKee's film isn't exactly your average slice of horror. It's clear
that the director has a thing for deviant young women, and that theme
is carried through with this film; along with a whole load of
influence, which ranges from Video Nasty classic 'The Evil Dead', to
Dario Argento's masterpiece 'Suspiria'. The film takes place in 1965,
and focuses on central character Heather Fasulo - a girl sent to a an
all-girl boarding school by her parents after she decided to burn down
their house. The school is surrounded by thick woodland, and the girls
there tell stories about it which revolve round a coven of witches that
decided to take the school by force many years earlier. Furthermore,
this story seems to have some truth as Heather suffers nightmares which
focus on the surrounding woods
The film is really slow paced for the first hour, and despite some mysterious goings on at first; there isn't a lot of horror involved. But that's not to say that the film is boring! McKee utilises this time well and uses it to create mystery around his central theme and build the characters up to a point that we can easily care for them. The atmosphere is continually creepy, and this bodes well with the mystery theme and the dark and gloomy woodland. While The Woods doesn't feature much in the way of blood and gore, McKee skilfully manages to work some schlock sequences into the film, and the frenzied final third brilliantly offsets the slow build of the first two. The director has managed to put together a good line-up of acting talent for the film, which sees Agnes Bruckner doing well in the lead role, and receiving good feedback from experienced actors, including a devilish Patricia Clarkson, and cult icon Bruce Campbell; whom I'd like to have seen more of. It all boils down to a satisfying, yet open, climax and overall; despite its problems getting a release - this is a damn good horror film and will surely rank as one of the best of 2006! Here's to hoping McKee has an easier time getting a release for his next film.
If you try to estimate The Woods as a horror flick it's 2 out of 10.
Scary? Impressive story? Good finale? Effects? ... are you kidding?
But despite of all the above the Woods is surprisingly watchable and somehow enjoyable. How's that?
Yes, it's style and imagery (excluding those ridiculous chopping scenes). Hypnotising manner of photography and acting. Slow dialogs, slow movements, close-ups on leading actresses, nice soundtrack selections, charming vocals in chorus scenes. Tea tanned picture, old-fashion haircuts and clothes.
Second, it's a human touch. I mean that scene with radio listening, scene when Heather mimics Mrs.Mackinaw, and so on. It's too common thing for nowadays horror flicks to forget that people are people in the first place, not just screaming dummies for chopping.
In fact, The Woods resembled me Body Snatchers - same slow, beautiful, stylish, and hypnotizing.
I'd been awaiting this film's release for over a year now, and finally,
after a bunch of problems with editing and whatnot, this movie got a
DVD release. "The Woods" tells the story of a troubled girl named
Heather (Agnes Bruckner), who is sent to a secluded private girls
school in 1965 by her estranged parents after causing problems and
lighting a tree on fire in their back yard. Ms. Traverse (Patricia
Clarkson), along with two other women, run the old school. Heather
doesn't seem to fit in at the school, and has a rough first week there,
getting in scuffles with a snobby bully named Samantha (Rachel
Nichols). Her only friend is Marcy, a quiet girl who is nice but shy.
As she spends more time around the school, Heather has nightmares and
hears strange voices, and is told the story of some witches who took
over the school 100 years ago. As more strange events occur in and
around the woods surrounding the school, girls begin to disappear.
Unlike some, I found "The Woods" to be a satisfying horror film. I'll start off with the story - it's intriguing but derivative, I'd describe it as a hybrid of "Suspiria" and "The Watcher in the Woods", which are both films that I love, I might add. While it does borrow ideas from these films, it's nonetheless an imaginative and entertaining movie. The direction in the film was great - Lucky McKee, who spawned the unique fairy-tale-like horror film, "May", does a good job with this film. There are some really creative & spooky sequences and some nice cinematography to offer, plus the great '60s atmosphere was strongly present, brought to life through the costumes, sets, and the vintage score, and providing a perfect backdrop for the story to take place. I tend to have a soft spot for period pieces, so I really liked the time setting.
The acting was on par and flowed naturally, the whole cast performed very well. Agnes Bruckner is likable in her role and Patricia Clarkson was great as the mysterious, something-isn't-quite-right-about-her Mrs. Traverse. Horror legend Bruce Campbell (of the "Evil Dead" series) plays Heather's father, although his role is pretty minor. And Rachel Nichols, who had a small role in the "Amityville Horror" remake, plays the rude school bully very well. There are some neat special effects used nicely throughout the film, and weren't too overdone. The CG was surprisingly really real-looking. I felt the conclusion of the of the film was slightly rushed, but I've seen films end much quicker than this, so for me it wasn't really a big deal. Plus, the ending features some great witch slashings via an axe, which was a nice addition to the film since the majority of it is gore free.
Overall, "The Woods" is a satisfying horror movie. It's different, but it's imaginative and throughly entertaining, with a great story and a strong vintage atmosphere. Definitely not bad at all, especially for a horror period piece. Other than the slightly rushed conclusion, I can't really say anything bad about it. It took over a year to finally get a release (in any form), but the wait was well worth it. I love stuff like this, so it was almost perfect for me. One of the better horror films of the past year. 9/10.
To hear Director Lucky McKee tell it at a post screening interview at
the 2006 Fantasia film festival, the reason his movie The Woods hasn't
been released is due to "corporate bullshit", however I'd have to say
it has more to do with a distinct lack of tension and chills which, in
a horror movie, isn't good. If you were looking for a reason why MGM
has kept this movie sitting on the shelf for the past three years, this
would be it.
Don't get me wrong. The Woods is a stylish, slickly made, well acted movie. Far worse have made their big screen debut, although simply because other studios have seen fit to put lesser fare in the cineplexes, doesn't necessarily mean they should follow suit with The Woods.
The movie tells the story of Heather (Agnes Bruckner), a troubled girl with a penchant for setting fires, who is relegated to an all girl boarding school by her parents, played by Canadian actress Emma Campbell and "The Chin" Bruce Campbell of Army of Darkness fame. It's there that she slowly learns that witchcraft is afoot and that she, along with select other students have been targeted for ulterior motives by the nefarious teaching staff as a result of their unique paranormal talents.
McKee, who rose to fame with his 2002 movie May, draws heavily on Italian horror cinema influences (the film bears more than a passing similarity to Dario Argento's Suspira), The Woods devotes far more time than most films of the genre building audience identification with the central characters, which normally is a good thing, however in this case it appears to have come at the expense of the fright factor. I suppose McKee was aiming for a slow, turn-of-the-screw approach to mounting tension, culminating with the film's orgasmic release, however it didn't work for me. Instead the movie seemed to plod along in a meandering fashion, only to suddenly kick into high gear during the final 15 minutes.
It's all too bad, really, because The Woods has many strengths going for it. It's terrifically photographed, the cinematography even plays with color hues throughout the film for a stylish effect. It's well acted with copious nifty quirks, the dialog flows naturally, and the special effects are superb. If only this movie delivered more chills than it promises, it would have probably been released a year or more ago.
In 1965, after provoking a fire in a forest, the rebel teenager Heather
Fasulo (Agnes Bruckner) is sent to the boarding school Falburn Academy
in the middle of the woods by her estranged mother Alice Fasulo (Emma
Campbell) and her neglected father Joe Fasulo (Bruce Campbell). The
dean Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson) accepts Heather in spite of the
bad financial condition of her father. The displaced Heather becomes
close friend of he weird Marcy Turner (Lauren Birkell), while they are
maltreated by the abusive mate Samantha Wise (Rachel Nichols). During
the nights, Heather has nightmares and listens to voices from the
woods, and along the days she believes that the school is a coven of
witches. When some students, including Marcy, simply vanish, Heather
believes she will be the next one.
"The Woods" is an interesting low paced horror movie directed by Lucky McKee, the director of the cult-movie "May". Using a creepy atmosphere to develop the characters and the supernatural mysteries surrounding the boarding school and their teachers, the story reaches its climax in the very end, when the secret of the Falburn Academy is finally disclosed. The underrated actress Patricia Clarkson is scary in the role of the evil dean of the school; the cult Bruce Campbell has a minor but important participation; and Agnes Bruckner is also good in her role. "The Woods" is never better than "May", but it is also a good psychological horror movie. Mr. Lucky McKee, please do not wait for another four years to release your next movie. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "A Floresta" ("The Woods")
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Woods" is the long-awaited follow-up effort from director Lucky
McKee, who caught critical attention with his modest but impressive
2002 teen shocker, "May". With an intermediate budget and slated for
mainstream release for the past year or two, "The Woods" still hasn't
shown up in theatres, and its Canadian premiere at Montreal's Fantasia
2006 leaves an unfortunate impression that it likely never will. It's
an intriguing watch for the longtime horror fan, as a sincere American
approximation of 70s style Italian giallos, but demands indulgence for
just how bloody awful it truly is. Characterization is non-existent and
the plot, which amazingly fails to explain any of its climactic events,
appears to have lost its thread during scene-by-scene rewrites. The
result isn't so much a tribute, but what looks like a frantic Plan B in
the editing room, which imitates rather than captures the
logic-be-damned nightmare flavour of vintage Bava and Argento.
The influence of Argento's "Suspiria" is evident to the point of plagiarism. The setting is an isolated boarding school for troubled girls, where young Heather (Agnes Bruckner) is sent, allegedly for pyromania, though the film never expands upon, nor utilizes this seemingly crucial character trait. Rebellious Heather is an instant magnet for all sorts of abuse, from both her snooty fellow pupils, and the creepy spinsters who staff the place. She attempts to run away, only to find that the surrounding woods are alive with supernatural menace, driving her right back to the school. This has something to do with a trio of 19th century witches, who got stoned to death or something, and are either haunting the place or hanging around as reincarnated teachers, though it's hard to tell. Meanwhile Heather befriends a couple other social rejects, who mysteriously vanish, and discovers that she has latent telekinetic powers (something else she puts to no future dramatic use.) These the faculty encourage her to develop, which she finds a tad suspicious. Is this why she's here, as a novice chosen for the teacher's blood coven? Or are they preparing her as a sacrifice to the forest demons? Don't even bother trying to figure it out, since she never gets around to it. The confusion merely intensifies when Heather's concerned father (Bruce Campbell) tries to spring her, and the FX budget kicks in, with animated ivy vines snaking all over the place and entangling cast members, for no apparent reason other than an in-jokey "Evil Dead" reference as Bruce dashes about in an axe-wielding frenzy. Never mind that everything up to this point has been dead serious and mostly low key Gothic, and Bruce with his gorestick comedy looks like he was parachuted in at the last minute. If the mess can't be tidied up, why not slop some cheap laughs on top of it?
One entertaining conceit is the film's 1965 setting, suggested with no great ear for retro dialog but little that's noticeably anachronistic. Period detail, meanwhile, is safely kept to a bare and economic minimum. This is made easy by its singular setting of an old converted mansion and its rustic surroundings, which necessitates the production rental of exactly three vintage automobiles. With all the younger cast members in a single change of outfit, between schoolgirl uniforms and prudish nightgowns (odd that there isn't a whiff of lesbianism in this), it's with the teachers that at least the hair and wardrobe departments get to have some fun, decking them out in ghastly exaggerations of 60s frump fashions and bouffant hairdos. The head mistress, in particular, has Joan Crawford's coiffed orangutan look from "Berserk", and as played by the usually brilliant Patricia Clarkson, she exudes poker-faced menace on a single mortified note, as if fulfilling her contract with a gun to her head. Real ingenuity is shown with the spare soundtrack, comprised of only three old hits by Lesley Gore, the perfect iconic choice for a film about mid-60s teenage girls. Rather than just playing in the background, the songs are blended with sound and visuals into the mood and action, especially "You Don't Own Me", which is emotionally merged, via intelligent montage, into an eerie operatic duet with the doomed soloist of the school choir.
This is one of several jarring stylistic flourishes -- another involves an inspired stereotype reversal of the school bully bitch -- that leads one to suspect that "The Woods" fell victim to militant studio tampering. If his compact and punchy earlier work, "May", is any indication, Lucky McKee knows how to construct a horror film, and he wouldn't have started with a script as sloppy incoherent as this one, accredited to his neophyte collaborator David Ross. As for Ross, unseasoned though he may have been, it's hard to believe he would've tossed in that pyromania and telekinesis, if he didn't have plans for his heroine to throw her weight around, rather than letting daddy-on-the-spot Bruce steal her thunder in that cult-pandering finale. Hotter heads prevailed on this one, probably penny pinching and running creative interference until precious little of the original vision remained. The film's a disaster, but a fascinating one, and let's hope the compromised talents blamed for it survive.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This one was a bit of a dog's breakfast, to put it bluntly. First and foremost, the screenplay was as confusing as it was clichéd. What for instance did Heather's ability to balance small stones and rocks have to do with anything? Through what mechanism was Heather 'chosen' to become a sacrifice? Why was the movie set in 1965 necessarily? Even if they did rejuvenate themselves how did the three witches who ran the school manage to keep their jobs for decades? What happened after the school burned down and the students told their stories? And so on and so forth. These and other questions beget by the slapdash plotting and lack of exposition kept on mounting up, but such irksome little mysteries were no distraction from 'The Woods's lead-booted direction and incredibly clichéd storyline. Once both the plot line and its strictly routine execution were established, it was obvious that the rest of the movie was going to be mere clock-punching, and that the 'surprises' and inevitable outcome were as predictable as the eternal changing tides. Oh, and the slithery CGI attack of the titular Woods was a bit cornball, too.
"The Woods" is just another example of a film that seemingly seems to possess such potential but is let down by the directing and screenplay. It did seem that "The Woods" had an interestingly complex story, but unfortunately it was far too complex to actually tell to the audience, meaning that we are left confused and underwhelmed by the mixed up finale. "The Woods" however does boast atmospheric and creepy direction, (even though it does look as if it was more of a TV movie than an actual film) unfortunately, the story becomes confused and as twisted as the branches. However, it is intriguing and although it does let you down, it's worth a watch.
If you are looking for a bloody slasher flick, then look elsewhere, as
this film is a spooky thriller along the lines of Dario Argento.
Agnes Bruckner, a superb young actress, plays a troubled teen whose mother puts her in a boarding school. It just so happens that she has special talents the headmistress (Patricia Clarkson - The Station Agent, The Green Mile, Pieces of April) and the other teachers are looking for.
Despite warnings from sexy Rachel Nichols, she is trapped and part of their diabolical scheme.
The suspense is tense throughout and it only gets bloody at the end. The acting is great and the tree effects are spectacular.
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