‘The Woods’ (2006) is a Suspenseful and Atmospheric Affair [Watch]
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Lucky McKee is a master of horror. That much is undisputed. However, much of his work still seems to fly under the radar. And that’s precisely the case with the atmospheric 2006 offering, The Woods.
The Woods is a suspenseful affair that pays loving tribute to the likes of Dario Argento and Sam Raimi while serving up its own visually striking tale of supernatural terror.
The Woods follows Heather (Agnes Bruckner) as she begins her tenure at a New England boarding school. As she settles in, Heather assumes the icy reception she receives from her peers and the staff will be her greatest challenge. But she soon discovers that turf wars and demerits are the least of her concerns. Something evil lurks in the woods adjacent to the institution and it has malevolent designs on Heather.
In a nod to Argento’s Suspiria, the evil that haunts the all-girls boarding school is associated with a trio of witches. And in a tribute to Sam Raimi, the wooded area adjacent to the school feels somewhat reminiscent of the ominous wilderness neighboring the cabin in The Evil Dead. With that said, The Woods doesn’t set out to rehash that which we’ve seen before. The similarities to Argento and Raimi are largely skin-deep and serve as a loving tribute. After establishing said similarities, McKee and screenwriter David Ross opt to take things in a decidedly different direction.
The central mystery in The Woods unfolds at a deliberate pace. But the characters are rather fascinating, making the ride to the climax an enjoyable one. Moreover, McKee takes great care to evoke a feeling of discomfort in the viewer long before he actually reveals all the details about the evil Heather is up against. Though he doesn’t give us all the answers at the onset, McKee paints a disquieting picture and then begins a gradual dissolve into total chaos.
McKee builds to a crescendo, ratcheting up the tension via an eerie score, ominous set design, and contentious relationships between characters. He adds to the foreboding feel by framing the woods outside the learning institution as an actual antagonist. The wooded area is depicted as dark and menacing. This very much serves as an indication that the trees are alive and ready to consume passersby.
Atmospheric flourishes aside, Agnes Bruckner turns in a layered and nuanced performance as Heather. She initially comes across as something of a detached and troubled young woman. But it quickly becomes apparent that her hard exterior is something of a defense mechanism. It was developed to shield herself from her mother’s constant criticisms and inability to behave in a maternal fashion. Heather’s father (Bruce Campbell in a rather subdued turn) clearly loves his daughter. But, his wife seems to have relegated him to the role of a passive bystander in his own life. That fractured family dynamic serves to underscore just how alone Heather is. She struggles to make friends at school and has no family support system. She has no one to turn to, which makes the various evils she faces all the more unsettling.
Though most of the film is played relatively straight and with the intent of leaving the audience rattled, there are some golden moments of black comedy. Heather’s deadpan delivery and her stoic mannerisms result in some truly comedic exchanges with her classmates and the school’s administrators. In one memorable instance, Heather tells a particularly unwelcoming classmate to “point those torpedoes south and start walking”. The nonchalance with which Bruckner delivers such dialogue is just as amusing as what she’s actually saying.
All in, The Woods is a loving tribute to the horrors of years past that manages to tell its own enticing story. If you’re keen to check out The Woods, you can stream it for free (with ads) via Pluto, Redbox, and Tubi as of the publication of this post.
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