Lucky McKee’s The Woods takes place in 1960s New England. It centers on a young girl named Heather who is starting her tenure at a new boarding school. Heather is met with adversity from the moment she sets foot on school grounds and things only get worse as she learns more about the dark past of the institution. As her friends begin to disappear, she struggles to piece together the secrets of the academy.
The Woods is a fantastic film. It is dark, atmospheric, and showcases director Lucky McKee’s mastery of ability ambiance. It pays tribute to films like Dario Argento’s Suspiria but still stands firmly on its own as a solid entry in the supernatural horror sub-genre.
The cinematography is inspired. There’s plenty of creative camera angles and constant examples of clever and unexpected camerawork that is likely to keep the viewer engaged for the entirety of the film. The lens the film was shot through lends an immediate sense of atmosphere to the production as well as helps to authentically recreate the timeframe in which the film is set.
Agnes Bruckner (The Pact) is terrific as Heather. She nearly perfectly captures the teen angst and sense of alienation that Heather feels as she is assimilating to her new surroundings. Bruce Campbell has a smaller supporting role in the film as Heather’s henpecked father and he plays against type surprisingly well.
David Ross (writer director of The Babysitters) penned the script for The Woods. He shows a flare for great dialogue and a willingness to pay tribute to the great horror films of years past with his script. I would love to see him write another horror picture, but he has been absent from Hollywood since the release of his 2007 film The Babysitters.
There isn’t a lot of gore on display in The Woods. The film relies much more on atmosphere and rightfully so. The story doesn’t call for a high level of violence. Had that been added in, it would have been out of place and unnecessary. The film does make use of a certain amount of CGI to tell its story and it’s not necessarily worse for it. I’m never a proponent of the use of CG but The Woods uses it sparingly and fairly convincingly to create some of the more challenging effects.
In addition to very little violence, there’s also no nudity in the film. But like an excess display of gore, nudity would have also been completely uncalled for. McKee showed impressive restraint in leaving out any unnecessary violence or nudity – it can be difficult to sell an independent horror film without some combination of the two but he stayed true to the story he wanted to tell and did it without compromising his vision.
The film gradually builds to an epic climax. It’s deliberately paced, though rarely dull. There is a small amount of brilliantly dark humor interspersed while the exposition is being laid out and that carriers the viewer through any scenes that may have been slightly drab without the aid of a bit of dark wit.
While The Woods isn’t necessarily as substantial as some of McKee’s other films, like May or The Woman, it doesn’t really need to be. It’s intended to be entertaining and doesn’t set out to be as profound as those films. It’s a more lighthearted effort but it’s perfectly enjoyable. The film is not lacking in substance more so than it just delves in to lighter subject matter than some of McKee’s other features.
If you haven’t yet checked out The Woods, it is certainly worth 90 minutes of your time. It’s keenly directed, sports a solid script, and the performances are well played.
Director(s): Lucky McKee
Writer(s): David Ross
Stars: Agnes Bruckner, Bruce Campbell, Patricia Clarkson
Studio/ Production Co: United Artists
Budget: $12 Million (Estimated)
Sub-Genre: Supernatural Horror