Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dead Wood (2009)

Dead Wood starts off with indulging itself in quite a few horror cliches. The opening scene features an extraneous character running through the woods who is eventually offed by a mysterious someone or something before shifting focus to the main group of young adults who are heading out to the same isolated woods to partake in some weekend relaxation before they are offed one by one by a mysterious killer.

Yet, the “killer” is not your average psychopath but something more supernatural, and this is where this indie film finally gets interesting. Yet, before getting to the interesting bits you’ll have to slog through some seriously boring scenes of the characters staring off into space, bickering and just wandering around. Is it worth it? Read on to find out…

Two English couples leave the city and head into the woods for a fun, let’s-get-back-to-nature type weekend. There is newbie couple Jess (Rebecca Craven) and Milk (John Samuel Worsey), who are still awkward around one another, and horny couple Larri (Emily Juniper) and Webb (Fergus March). They take their VW van up into the woods and load up all their gear and hike toward what they hope is the lake. They never find the lake, but since dark is approaching decide to make camp in the middle of the forest. The next morning, they are surprised to find a mysterious girl named Ketsy (Nina Kwok) huddled over their camp fire. She says she’s been wandering for days looking for her lost boyfriend. The quartet decide to help her, but in the process of searching for Ketsy’s lost boyfriend they go missing one by one. Can the remaining survivors discover what evil presence inhabits the woods and save their friends or is it already too late?

Despite the fact that this film starts off like any other low-budget slasher flick, I like the fact that it didn’t stick to the slasher formula with the “killer.” Instead of having some masked maniac stalking the victims, in Dead Wood a more supernatural entity is behind the disappearances…and just wait until you see exactly where the bodies are being kept!

I really liked the different direction the film went towards the end, but nonetheless I still had to wade through the crappy first part of the film. The opening scene was cliche, but the scene directly after where Jess and Milk are waiting for the van to come pick them up was completely unnecessary and really killed any tension of suspense the first scene had. Basically, they are just awkwardly sitting there and I don’t know why this scene wasn’t cut from the film. It would have been much less painful had it just started with the couples driving into the woods. This uneven pacing continued for the first half of the film…mostly we saw the couples trekking through the woods, getting lost, setting up camp and partying a little, but it just felt so dragged out! A bit of better editing could have definitely helped and made it more fast-paced.

However, this slow pace does let us enjoy some great camera work! The partying scene was pretty cool because the film would slow down, then speed back up, then slow down, turning what could have been a very normal party scene into something much more trippy. I also liked when the camera moved through the woods a la Evil Dead. Very nice homage there! The film boasts three directors who also acted as the film’s cinematographers – David Bryant, Sebastian Smith, Richard Stiles (they also wrote, edited, produced and pretty much did everything else!) – and they did a fantastic job with the camera work, especially considering this was a low-budget film. There are some scenes that look a little soft focus and fuzzy, but most of the shots have a high-quality feel to them.

Surprisingly, the acting was pretty decent. You never know what you are going to get in low-budget films, but the actors in Dead Wood pleasantly surprised me. I believe this was the first feature film for most involved, and they all did quite a bang up job! I especially liked Nina Kwok as Ketsy, the girl no one is sure if they can trust.

As for the scares, well up until the end we don’t get much except for eerie sounds and rustling trees. I did like that the filmmakers held back and didn’t show too much, but I think the film needed a few extra scares to really ratchet up the tension. There is one scary nighttime scene where a flashlight keeps going out and on and out and on…and the last time it comes on a gruesome face is inches from one of the survivors! That was a nice jolt right there, even when you do expect something to happen.

There’s not much blood or gore in Dead Wood, but towards the end there is a really cool special effect when we learn just where all the victims are stashed. Kudos to visual effect gurus Rob Ellis and Richard Stiles as well as special makeup effects artist Mike Peel for their amazing work throughout the film!

You know, despite not liking the first half of the film I admit I am glad to have seen Dead Wood. It just goes to show how much can be done with a minuscule budget and a lot of passion. The supernatural twists to the story more than make up for the trite and stereotypical first part of the film and looking back I find myself liking the film’s subtleties more and more.

Dead Wood comes out on DVD July 7th, 2009 and though I wouldn’t recommend it as a purchase, check it out as a rental!

Available from Amazon!

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