Tuesday, November 14, 2006

THE WOODS

Back in 2002, director Lucky McKee’s first feature, MAY, generated some good reviews and strong word of mouth, and even got him invited into Showtime’s MASTERS OF HORROR directorial talent pool (SICK GIRL). Unfortunately, his second feature film, THE WOODS (2005), became embroiled in arcane studio politics and was shelved for over a year before finally making it’s belated debut on DVD.

And that’s a real shame, because while the movie isn’t a classic, it’s a lot better than most of the direct-to-disc horror movies out there, and probably would have been very well received if it had gotten a theatrical release.

Set in 1965 New England, a troubled girl, Heather Fasulo (Agnes Bruckner, VENOM), experiences mysterious occurrences in the forest surrounding the prestigious but isolated Falburn Academy, an exclusive girl’s school run by the somewhat sinister headmistress, Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson, THE DEAD POOL). First she seems to hear voices in the trees, then her classmates begin disappearing in the night, leaving only dry, dead leaves in their beds, and Heather suspects that she may be the next to go missing. Unfortunately, it looks like escaping that terrifying fate may be impossible, even when her estranged parents (Bruce Campbell, THE EVIL DEAD, and Emma Campbell, FEARDOTCOM) come to take her home…

Beautifully shot by John R. Leonetti, and sensitively directed by McKee, THE WOODS is an atmospheric, low key horror film that eschews gory shocks in favor of strong performances and a steadily building sense of dread. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Bruckner’s shining performance as Heather giving the weird events a solid anchor. Bruce Campbell atypically and effectively underplays his role as her concerned father, and Clarkson projects both authority and menace in equal measure.

Sony has unceremoniously tossed the movie onto the marketplace with no support or extra effort whatsoever. The bare-bones disc features a gorgeous 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (along with a disgraceful full-frame pan-and-scan option), and a robust Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix. That’s it.

While Sony may not recognize it, THE WOODS is a superior supernatural chiller and deserves to be seen. Recommended.

BUY: The Woods (Widescreen Edition)