Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Lucky McKee is an interesting film director.  His first film, or at least the first one of his films that I saw, was the disturbed indie thriller ‘May’.  A methodical, slow paced character study of an extremely disturbed young woman who ends up cutting off the pieces of people she meets to create a loyal friend.  I assume you could classify ‘May’ as horror though it lacked sudden and mostly artificially created jumps and scares you expect from horror films.  May is a difficult film to classify, but I found it an engaging movie to watch regardless. 

McKee’s latest film, ‘The Woods’, is a similarly paced Horror / Thriller which is also difficult to classify.  Taking place in 1965 we meet Heather, played by Agnes Bruckner – who in the heck names a child born after 1940 Agnes?  Gertrude? Agatha? Millicent?  I am officially changing Agnes Bruckner’s name to Brittney Bruckner.  Anyways, Heather has a bit of an arson problem and has just burnt down a tree in her parents’ yard and has nearly burnt down the whole house in the process.  Moms (Emma Campbell) has had enough and along with her father (the legendary Bruce Campbell) have carted her off to a remote all girls boarding school deep in the woods.  All of the teachers of this particular school are spooky as hell but none more so than Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson) who has a habit appearing out of nowhere, usually in the midst of trees.  Ms Traverse has determined that Heather is ‘special’ along with a few other her classmates and have them taking ‘special’ classes.  Heather knows that something ain’t quite right in this school with trees that seem have voices, disappearing students, and teachers that obviously have a secret agenda happening off in the periphery.

Soon everything goes straight to hell when people start dying, little girls turn into rotted leaves, and trees start choking the stuffing out of people.  To quote the Geico Cavemen, ‘not cool’. (that there was an old pop-culture reference)

Similar to ‘May’ McKee orchestrates ‘The Woods’ with a muted tone in which everything seems to bubble beneath the surface.  But where this worked very well in ‘May’, ‘The Woods’ moves a little too methodically and plodding for it’s own good.  There were terror elements in the film, but little horror, and by that I mean there was some gore, but nothing that actually instilled any fear or shock.  Because of that, there was very little tension and I as a viewer was never really concerned for Heather’s well being.  This also keeps ‘The Woods’ from being effective as a thriller as well.   The film is very efficient however with not a single frame going to waste.  McKee crafts a very tight film and he obviously has a very high level of skill and does a fantastic job of creating atmosphere and mood, it just seems there isn’t enough going on to hold the audience’s attention.

It would seem that Sony sat on this picture for a couple of years without releasing it, not knowing what to do with it .  On this, it is obvious to me that powers that be in the studio system are complete and totally hopeless morons.   I didn’t care for ‘The Woods’ that much, but with that being said it is still yard sticks better than ‘Silent Hill’, ‘When a Stranger Calls’, ‘An American Haunting’ or any number of awful theatrically released horror films I was forced to sit through this year.  Obviously all studio decisions are based on money and money alone, but not one single exec could have marketed this into a few bucks?  Absolutely pathetic I tell you.

Still, this film may appeal to those of us more with a little more patience than others, and while I didn’t so much care for ‘The Woods’ I still think that Lucky McKee has bright career in front him if he can get some material to match his considerable talent.

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