Murder in the Woods follows a group of college-age friends who head to a private cabin in the woods for a birthday celebration. The group consists of standard 80s horror stereotypes: the shy nerds, the girl who likes to sleep around, and the constantly fighting couple. What starts off as a happy celebration quickly divulges into a gory murder fest.
Murder in the Woods treats you to an appearance by the absolute legend Danny Trejo, who exudes so much dad energy in his role, it made me miss my own.
So, one of the main selling points of Murder in the Woods is that it boasts an all Latinx cast, crew, director, producer, etc., and you can definitely tell that by the writing. As a Latinx person myself finding movies that reflect my cultural understanding and familial experiences is hard, but in horror, if someone is of color (Latinx, Asian, Black, etc) they are often shoved into stereotypical roles that leave a bad taste in your mouth. You want to appreciate the fact that they are present, but it’s hard to celebrate poor writing and representation of rich cultural and ethnic people. I.E., the Latinx person is drunk, the Black person runs at any paranormal occurrence, and the Asian person is geeky but smart. Should I be happy about representation? Sure, but the aforementioned representation, hell no.
This is what makes Murder in the Woods so much different. These are Latinx characters that remind me of my cousins, my friends, and my relatives. There are nuances and tidbits that you would not know unless you were either Latinx or took two seconds to talk to someone in that community, rather than portray them in a disgusting way. For instance, Jesse (José Julián of Spare Parts) has an abuletia who has an altar of deceased family members and lights candles to pray for the dead. While to outside folks this can be ‘strange’, Roman Catholicism and this type of household magic run in tandem with each other in Mexican households. It is not uncommon to say the Lord’s Prayer ritualistically after a person has passed, in order to ensure their soul will rest. There are plenty of other tidbits like that which any Latinx person, or ally, is likely to recognize and appreciate.
However, I have to now turn my attention to the film itself as a whole, and woah y’all it is a ride. I cannot express enough how happy I am about the representation, but this does not mean I will treat this movie with kid gloves. There are genuinely enjoyable moments and giggles, but some of the cringy dialogue and obnoxious youth-like behavior will throw you back to Crystal Lake and not in a good way. There are some genuinely funny moments, but they will be quickly squandered by someone saying something so outrageous it will give you whiplash. One girl that accompanies the group is labeled a ‘slut’ I refuse to call her that but her character is sexually generous. Her boobs pop out, she dances ‘seductively’ and she is constantly harassed by another character who ‘wants an easy lay.’ This and many other interactions between the key players are hard to watch. The ‘jokes’ and awkward dialogue wear out their welcome by the end of the first act and, at that point, I just wanted the murder to begin.
Further, this movie drags when it doesn’t need too and doesn’t get interesting until the middle of the third act, where we finally see a couple of twists. The main twist is predictable, but it validates your weird feelings about one fo the character. The abuletia and Danny Trejo are hands down the best characters, but man it is a rough ride to sit though.. There is also an extended sex scene that I was not ready for, and wow, yeah, I had to recheck that I was still watching a horror film.
Overall, while Murder in the Woods does stand out for its representation, Latinx flavor, etc. (which it should be praised for), it shows that sometimes a film can be heavily flawed, even though it is revolutionary. That being said, I do highly encourage viewers to watch the film, not for the scares or because you will sleep with the lights on, but for the horrifying realization that many of your horror favorites are riddled with stereotypes, singular ethnic understandings, and no cultural flavor.
WICKED RATING: 4/10
Director(s): Luis Iga
Writer(s): Yelyna De Leon
Stars: José Julián, Jeanette Samano, Chelsea Rendon
Release: September 18th, 2020 (Digital and VOD)
Studio/ Production Co: Rezinate Entertainment
Length: 90 Minutes
Sub-Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller