Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring David Bryant, Ruby Bryant, Nina Kwok, Rebecca Craven, John Samuel Worsey
Directed by David Bryant, Sebastian Smith & Richard Stiles
Something about those Brits, man; gotta be in their water. Instead of churning out endless torture shit fests or badly done slasher films, even their indiest of indie directors seem capable of making something that at the very least is watchable, at the very best astounding. Though I’d like to say that Dead Wood is of the latter, it’s actually somewhere right in-between the gamuts; which is more than can be said of most US indie films nowadays
The premise is a familiar one; four friends head out to the woods for a weekend of fun and relaxation; one pair is a couple, the remaining a man and woman quite obviously fond of one another but unsure of what to do about it. Their relationship throughout is handled very maturely and naturally, which is a refreshing thing right out of the starting gate.
Almost immediately upon entering the woods the bad omens start. First they hit a deer (doing surprisingly minimal damage to their vehicle, which was likely a budget issue), which the driver has to deliver a mercy kill to in order to end its suffering; definitely not a good way to start off your weekend of fun and adventure.
Once they get into the woods they stumble across the ruins of two cars out in the middle of nowhere. This is the first real indication that something very strange is going on. How the hell would two cars get in the middle of the forest without tire tracks or a path?
Things continue to get weirder when a girl named Ketsy (Kwok) shows up in their camp the following morning saying she’s looking for her missing boyfriend, whom we know from the films prologue took a long walk off a short cliff while being pursued by … something.
Then, people start disappearing. One minute they’re there, for example swimming in the lake, the next they’re just … gone. The group of five is slowly whittled down, though not in the conventional means of hacking and slashing; they just simply vanish.
Because of this mystery, Dead Wood managed to keep me engaged for most of the running time, despite getting off to a pretty slow start. Sound is used to a disconcerting effect throughout, with our heroes eventually unsure of what is real and what isn’t so we’re left to question the same.
Strong performances help bolster the script when it does get bogged down, too, though some of the circumstances seem pretty ridiculous when you factor simple human logic into things. None of the actors here are exceptionally good or bad; they pull of their roles believably enough to carry the film, which is good enough for me.
Ultimately your enjoyment of Dead Wood will rely a lot on your patience. It’s not a fast-moving film by any stretch of the imagination; I would call it deliberately paced in order to build tension and unease, a feat that the three (!) filmmakers behind it actually manage to accomplish for the most part. The resolution as to what is causing this and why isn’t clear cut or over-explained, either; it’s up to the audience to come up with some of their own conclusions, which is a nice change of pace.
For another 20-something horror movie set in the woods and made with very little money, Dead Wood is a great example of how it can be done right. A bit more attention paid to the logic and a trimming of the beginning would help, but those complaints are minor.
3 1/2 out of 5
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