Woods, The (DVD)
Directed by Lucky McKee
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
The Woods is a film I'd been hearing about seemingly forever and was really looking forward to seeing. This was primarily due to the fact that Lucky McKee has demonstrated to horror fans that he understands the genre with his excellent directorial turns in both the widely acclaimed May and his Masters of Horror episode, "Sick Girl," which consistently shows up on people's Top 5 favorites list from the series. Knowing that it includes supporting roles for Patricia Clarkson (one of my favorite actresses) and Bruce Campbell (who doesn't love Bruce?) only added to my enthusiasm for the project. Like most, I couldn't fathom why the studio kept moving and delaying its release. Surely it couldn't be that bad?!? It pains me greatly to report that in this instance the powers-that-be knew what they were doing; it is indeed that bad and more.
Set for some indiscernible reason in 1965, The Woods starts off promisingly. A girl-band pop song plays over the credits, perfectly evoking the era and putting us in the proper mood. Dr. and Mrs. Fasulo (Campbell and Campbell) are driving their teenage daughter, Heather, to her new school. Instantly a red flag goes up. I'm sorry, but back in those days almost nobody named their child "Heather." It took me right out of the film for several moments. Nevertheless, okay, I could live with it for the sake of the screenwriter's blatant attempt to evoke a connection between the lead character and nature, in particular plants. Moving on … Evidently Heather has been a bad, bad girl. She and Mommy don't get along, and Heather's pyromaniac tendencies have resulted in her being shipped off to an all-girls boarding school deep in the heart of a menacing forest.
Once our dysfunctional family members arrive at the school, we're treated to the very best part of the film -- its sound design. The building creaks and groans magnificently while the Fasulos are greeted and questioned by stern Headmistress Traverse (Clarkson). As it turns out, a fire-happy daughter is the least of their problems; they also have financial difficulties. Not to worry, however, scholarships are available, and Heather is a perfect candidate even though she just randomly circles her answers on the test Miss Traverse gives her. Once her parents leave, Heather is given a uniform and taken to the dining room, where she is first befriended by another weirdo outcast, Marcy (Birkell), who could have been one of the film's more interesting characters had character development been at all a consideration in The Woods, and then targeted for torment by Head Bitch Samantha (Nichols), who immediately begins calling poor Heather by the name "Fire Crotch" because of her flaming red hair. Screenwriter David Ross must have considered Fire Crotch the cleverest nickname on the planet because various characters utter it at least 20 times in the film. Personally, I found it not amusing in the least, but instead quite annoying.
It's mentioned that all of the spinsterly teachers are former students, cluing us in right away that the place is akin to the Hotel California -- no one ever leaves. Heather begins having nightmares and hearing voices coming from the dreaded woods, and the other girls fill her in on the tale of Clara Thompson and her sisters, three witches who came to the school a hundred or so years ago under mysterious circumstances and were treated rather badly by their fellow students. Within a few days of Heather's arrival, girls begin disappearing from their beds at night, replaced by a pile of leaves. There are hints that Heather has some sort of "special powers." CGI tree branches (a few decent looking; others bordering on laughable) creep and crawl through windows and hallways, wreaking havoc. The remaining students and instructors mope about in a somber and morose way while the audience is left grasping at straws as to what exactly is happening. Apparently the woods needs bodies or some such nonsense, and then …
Listen, why even bother? The Woods has an interesting premise that could have made a great short film lasting no more than an hour. It was needlessly, awkwardly padded, and I refuse to inflict the same punishment on you readers in this review. I can assure you there are really only two scenes of merit: One when Heather shows a tiny spark of life and imitates the twitching Miss Mackinaw (Marcia Bennett in the standout performance of the film) and the other when Miss Traverse confronts Dr. Fasulo at the same time Heather is being restrained in the hospital. These are the only times The Woods displays even the slightest bit of vigor. The rest is a plodding, over-wrought mess that even Clarkson can't save. She gives the worst performance of her career that I've seen; Bruckner fluctuates between slightly above average and going through the motions; and the rest of the cast seems just as lost as to why they are there as I was when trying to figure out exactly what happened in the climax. Yes, overall it looks pretty and sounds good, but a coherent, fleshed-out script would have been nice since the intent was obviously to fill a feature-length time slot.
As for the DVD package, it look like absolutely no one involved in the production has the slightest thing to say about it. Other than a few trailers, there is not a single extra to be found. No commentary, no cast and crew interviews, no deleted scenes. Sony, unlike our current Administration, decided that cutting and running was their best option. I can't disagree.
At about the 80-minute mark in the film, the woods tells Heather, "Something's going to happen." It sort of does, but it's much too little, much too late. If, in spite of my warnings, your curiosity has gotten the better of you and you feel that you really must see this film, do so with no expectations or any hope of being entertained. Otherwise, all that's likely to happen is you sitting on your couch, DVD case in hand, wishing that you'd watched something else.
1 1/2 out of 5
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