After Heather (Agnes Bruckner) sets her parent’s tree on fire out of boredom, she is shipped off to a strange boarding school run by Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson), where the woods surrounding the school seem to be slowly devouring the building itself. There’s also the standard issue legend surrounding the history of the school that involves a coven of witches who murdered the school’s head-mistress years before.
Does any of this result in an interesting film? Let’s take a step back before we delve into …he quality of The Woods…
Lucky McKee’s 2003 film, May, was an ambitious horror film that was more character study than it was horror movie. While May was somewhat overrated, McKee showed some promise by bringing the character study technique back to the horror genre. May was Carrie crossed with Frankenstein, and it worked.
However, McKee’s follow-up film, The Woods, abandons the one thing that May had going for it — an engaging character. Maybe that is why The Woods was long delayed and received no theatrical release. It’s easy to see why. The focal point from May is non-existent in The Woods, be it character, good acting, atmosphere, gore — you name it — The Woods lacks it. On top of these flaws, The Woods is all over the place. There are witches, psychokinesis, and… killer trees? Not since Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers have living trees bored the complete crap out of me his much.
Anyway, whatever McKee throws at the wall — nothing sticks to elevate The Woods beyond a miserably failed experiment. What could have been a spooky Americanized re-telling of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, becomes a film destined to commit the same mistakes Argento’s “masterpiece” does, right down to it’s wandering plot and awkward dialogue.
The performances don’t help either. Patricia Clarkson, who could have had a field day with the role of the witch-y head mistress, dials down her role to become a non-threatening entity. Agnes Bruckner doesn’t do much better — her Heather displays no range of emotion other than pissed off and boredom. And for Bruce Campbell fans (I never understood that obsession), the man himself shows up as Heather’s concerned father for roughly 5-10 minutes of screen time whenever the plot demands it. Rachel Nichols, who was the poster girl for female perfection when she joined the cast of Alias (she’s gorgeous, but not in this film), looks about 10 years younger here, another sign that The Woods was long-delayed. Her character also goes from harassing bully to unlikely friend with no transition and no explanation. In a film filled with strange and questionable aspects, this character change is perhaps the most head-scratching move.
Finally, like Suspiria, the ending does manage to inject some much needed gore and action into the drab proceedings, but it’s so sloppily handled that it fails to salvage anything that’s come before.
The Woods is a failure on practically every level. The plot, acting and atmosphere all fail to be engaging. After May, I don’t think anyone believed that Lucky McKee was going to be the savior of modern horror films, but he had a promising future — and I’m not saying he still can’t have one. But he’ll need to go back and watch the game film to see what worked in May — and what didn’t work in The Woods (which is pretty much the entire film) — and go from there.
Void of any Special Features, The Woods, has plenty of disc space to stretch its legs which results in a solid 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The film’s palate is mostly made up of earth tones, which results in a pretty drab picture, but it is always clear and nice to look at.
The Woods comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that is surprisingly aggressive. Nightmare sequences come to life with ear splitting highs and the limited scenes with action, including one involving a tree crashing through a windshield, burst with energy as the windshield explodes. However, the film is mostly dialogue driven but is always clearly audible. The score and incidental music are handled nicely too.
Previews – trailers for direct-to-video releases such as I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, The Dark, Population 436, and Wah, Wah.
The Woods fails on every level and there are no Special Features present to explain what went wrong with this film. Horror fans will be disappointed and the few loyal fans that Lucky McKee gained after May will likely be disappointed too. Avoid The Woods and take the long way around this film.
Special Features List