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  • The Backwoods

    Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on July 1st, 2008

    (out of 5)

    Call it Deliverance meets Texas Chain Saw Massacre by way of Straw Dogs. Really that’s the best way I can describe this incredibly derivative film starring Gary Oldman. It’s Summer in 1978 and two couples are making their way to an isolated vacation house in the woods. The house is the ancestral home for Paul. The four are traveling from England to Spain where Paul impresses the locals with his ability to speak Spanish. More importantly it’s his ability to understand the language as they were insulting the group intending for them to be oblivious to the slights. The location is quite off the beaten trail and the four must abandon one of their cars and pool in Paul’s Land Rover to reach the house. The men are looking forward to doing some hunting and maybe getting away from the women. You get the sense early that each of the couples is experiencing some tension in their relationships. On their first day hunting the guys stumble upon what appears to be an abandoned house. Inside they find a young girl chained to the floor. Fancying themselves as a pair of knights in shining armor they “rescue” the girl and bring her back to their house. From there the trouble starts. The girl has deformed hands, a prosthetic effect and is simply laughable on every level. The locals consider such things in typical superstitious terms and want the girl returned. What we get for the rest of the film is a lot of running from men in shotguns and an almost senseless attempted rape on one of the woman by a local.


    The film has a decidedly European style. Of course, that’s because it is very much a European film. The original title of the film is Bosque de Sombras. The four leads are a multinational group. Oldman is from England. Paddy Considine who plays the other man, Norman, is from England also. Aitana Sanchez-Gijon plays Isabel is from Italy but appears quite Spanish in the film. Finally Virginie Ledoyen is from France and she plays the rather shy Lucy. The acting is fair but everything is so reserved and underplayed. I’m not sure if it’s a European film characteristic or not but all of the performances are rather subdued. Even when Paul is confronting the father of the deformed girl in a scene that will lead to a shotgun chase it’s almost as though they are talking about the weather or something inconsequential. The obvious idea of a clash of cultures never gets played out. It ends up being one Norman who fires the first shot in the war that gets waged in this forest. Understand that he was protecting his wife from being raped, but it still takes something away from the dramatic differences between these two cultures. The only scene that takes on any kind of action is a well filmed chase in the rain that worked on almost every level.



    The Backwoods is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The wonderful Spanish locations are a good subject for the camera and are photographed with some artful touches that make this a nice picture to see. There’s plenty of detail to be found. Black levels are strong. Colors are often a little washed out and there is a bit of a sepia tone to the overall look of the film. The color correction allows for an actually deeper green to the trees making the forest feel more remote than it actually was. Certainly, a visually pleasing film, if that’s all you really want. There is a strange blemish at almost exactly 56:00 into the film. The subtitles of the Spanish dialog appears to have a digital breakup so that you can’t read it. You’ll need to speak Spanish to understand that line. If I cared enough about it I’d appeal to you Spanish speakers out there to tell me what was said. That, of course, would be requiring you to actually watch this movie. I just couldn’t ask that of anybody.



    The Dolby Digital 5.1 track did a marvelous job of creating atmosphere. The surrounds were put to good use without overdoing it. You are able to experience the wide sound field of a vast forest and yet still have bouts of claustrophobia when the characters feel cornered. The rain storm was brilliantly spread over the surrounds that it felt remarkably real. Again, the film shows terrific technical skills but the material never lives up to the extraordinary presentation.


    Special Features


    Final Thoughts

    It took over two years for this film to find a distributorship deal before Lionsgate finally took on the job. It’s not that the film is badly done that makes it such a commercial risk. The film just lacks enough drive to keep the average filmgoer’s attention. It’s the kind of film that you can admire for its wonderful technique but once it’s over you find it overall to be completely unremarkable. This is very much a film festival kind of movie that has little chance of leaving any lasting impressions. There are many reasons you might be thinking about getting this one. Gary Oldman is a terrific actor and seldom puts in a less than stellar performance. The plot sounds interesting, unfortunately, it sounds far more interesting than it actually is. That’s a lot to think about, so, let me do you a favor here. Don’t touch this one. “Don’t think. Let me think for the both of us”.

    Posted In: 2.35:1 Widescreen, Disc Reviews, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), DVD, Lionsgate / Maple Pictures, Suspense / Thriller

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