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One of the girls, Carrie Sizemore, even looks a little like the girl in The Blair Witch Project. But ... The photography, the continuity, the music score, the special effects, all of these are good. Certain photographic sequences actually remind me of Children of the Corn. The acting? Well, I don't think anyone need alert the Oscar nominating committee, but these folks aren't nearly as amateurish as some B movie casts. I think I would have enjoyed this movie more, and I honestly did enjoy it, if I hadn't seen Blair Witch. But how many plots and variations on a theme are there, really? I mean, boy meets girl, girl breaks boy's heart, girl dies, comes back from the dead, and eats boy's heart. Okay. If you can watch this without comparing it to Blair Witch its a good short film.
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As a total and complete hater of pretty much everything shot-on-video, I'm probably a pretty biased reviewer for this type of production. But in saying that I must say that for an amateurish shot-on-video rip-off of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT this isn't as awful as it could be. They do a pretty decent job of building some kind of suspense and sense of fear. The F/X are what you would expect of a no-budget backyard horror flick. We even get about halfway through when people start dying and end up in an EVIL DEAD homage. Although I wouldn't recommend this to everyone I'll say it's at least watchable, which is more than can be said for most shot-on-video crap. And they keep the running time down to about an hour which is a good thing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you ever wondered what I look for in independent horror movies, look no further than 'Off The Beaten Path' from the aptly titled Not For The Squeamish Productions. Director Jason Stephenson produced his first feature film, a 'Blair Witch/Evil Dead' mash-up with so much heart and charisma that it's infectious and that's EXACTLY what I like to see when it comes to low-budget horror. Not simply being content with ripping off these two classic films of the genre, Stephenson goes the extra mile to craft a backstory and build suspense, waiting nearly until the halfway mark before unleashing the grisly goods. Sure, this is obviously an amateur production: the acting is sometimes uneven (but still surprisingly good all things considered), the gore is low budget (but still created with imagination and style), the sound is uneven (almost dropping out entirely in one scene), and the music is just kind of there but 'Off The Beaten Path' somehow transcends these drawbacks to take on a life of its own; and I think a large part of this is due to director Stephenson's balls-to-the-wall approach behind the camera. While properly covering the slower scenes where the story calls for exposition (like dialogue between characters) is a sticking point, Stephenson makes up for it with some groovy camera angles and wild tracking shots that must have been a bitch to pull off in the woods at night with actors covered in red corn syrup. While the story has a 'been-there-done-that' flavor, I think this could have been helped by actually showing in quick-cut edits and flashes the grisly murders of the past to more dynamically illustrate the story the character of Brenda is relating, and also help set this movie apart from the two it is so obviously emulating. Also, seeing a little less of the weird Blair Witch type 'woman in the woods' would have upped the creepiness and made her character more mysterious (plus I wouldn't have given her dialogue but that's just me nitpicking!) A true cult film if I ever saw one, this is a B-movie from start to finish but here's the trick: it knows it's a B-movie and it plays off that fact. Rather than falling into the artsy-fartsy pretentious school of indie horror, we get beat over the head by the simple story and gnarly special effects. Now, there are some reviewers out there who instantly dismiss films like 'Off The Beaten Path' simply for their meager budgets equating a low budget with low quality. But let me remind you of something that we all thought at one time or another: remember how blown away you were by Sam Raimi's direction of the 'Evil Dead' back in the early '80's? Remember how the simple demonic story set in the woods floored you and inspired you and made you want to scrape up a few bucks to buy a Super 8 camera and a case of beer and make your own low-budget horror flick with your buddies? Well, Jason Stephenson didn't just talk the talk, my friends. He went out and actually MADE that movie. Sure, it's obvious that he's referencing certain thematic elements, but it's out of sheer love for those classic films (not to mention the lack of suitable locations in Minnesota to make a movie!) To some 'Off The Beaten Path' may seem like a blatant rip-off, but to me it honestly played out more like a tribute more than anything. I jived to the kick-ass energy, grooved to the basic story, was slightly turned off by the flat music and choppy editing, but in the end won over by the absurd fun and heart and soul that was obviously put into the production. This is not a perfect movie to be sure but with no budget, what do you expect? I would recommend seeing this if only to remind you of how amazing films like 'The Evil Dead' are and that there are still some folks out there willing to give us inspired horror rather than Tinseltown remakes. Let's take a walk off the beaten path, shall we?
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