A Night in the Woods (2013)
Directed by Richard Parry
In a perfect world, found footage filmmakers would learn from the mistakes of those that came before them. Yet, year after year we’re inundated with the same tired films wherein exceedingly annoying kids decide to film a documentary or capture every second of their vacation, all while doing little more than talking a lot and questioning the necessity of filming before conveniently recording their imminent deaths at the hands of a ghost or an alien or a demon. Honestly, it’s getting old and does nothing more than contribute to the poor reputation this much maligned sub-genre has gained over the past several years. But in the case of Richard Parry, who wrote and directed the 2011 “there’s something in the wood” thriller A Night in the Woods, you can at least see a semblance of effort, despite how often the film falls into found footage convention.
The film follows Brody and Kerry, a couple whose peaceful outing to the moors of Devon, England, is interrupted by Kerry’s cousin, Leo. Brody is suspicious of him from moment one, playing nice in front of Kerry while uttering strange threats and eerie statements to the camera in private. On their way to their destination, a brief conversation with a couple of locals reveals the story of The Huntsman, a local legend who carves crosses in the foreheads of sinners and kills them. As they make their way to the campsite, the paranoia and tension slowly swells, culminating in Brody walking off into the woods and leaving Kerry and Leo all by their lonesome, seemingly stalked by something hidden in the darkness. You can see where this is going.
Everything up until this point is where the film fails. It plods along, reminding you that it has, in fact, seen every boring, rote, and unoriginal found footage film before it, replete with pointless banter and the repetitive cries of “put the camera down!” as the trio march through the forest and set up camp. Along the way the source of Brody’s insecurities is revealed in an amusingly clever way; multiple cameras and devices are used to construct the narrative, and while it plays right into one of the biggest complaints associated with the sub-genre, it at least represents an attempt to do something different.
It’s not until Brody takes off into the night, leaving Kerry and Leo alone at the campsite, that the film manages to take a turn into decidedly creepy territory. After a few revelations that help put some of the preceding events in perspective, Leo marches off into the woods as well, leaving Kerry alone at the campsite. Here Parry makes effective use of the camera’s various lighting effects, tossing in a number of twists and turns to the story that help make the first half less of a drag. It’s certainly not enough to save the film, but it’s a decent respite from the interminable bore that comes before it.
Unfortunately, it all comes full circle with a traditional cop-out found footage ending that resulted in a heavy roll of the eyes and a loud proclamation of “Really?” It’s a shame, really, because tossed in the middle is some pretty interesting stuff, or at the very least a momentary respite from the pitfalls of found footage that plague the film throughout. I think the saddest thing is that this is one of the better direct-to-DVD found footage thrillers I’ve seen in recent memory, and it’s not even that good.
2 out of 5