More “Blair Witch Project” style shenanigans arrive in the form of “A Night in the Woods”, a British effort which could at least never be accused of not living up to its title, following a trio of the usual types wandering around the moors and forests of Northern England. The found footage film was directed by Richard Parry (“South West 9”), who previously worked as a conflict zone cameraman, helming various documentaries in Iraq and Afghanistan, with cinematography by Simon Dennis (“The Sweeney”), and the international cast of American star Scoot McNairy (“Monsters”), Australian actress Anna Skellern (“The Descent: Part 2”) and up and coming British actor Andrew Hawley (“Snow White And The Huntsman”). The Vertigo Films release is set for a brief run in UK cinemas in early September, arriving shortly afterwards on DVD.
The very recognisable plot follows an American called Brody (Scoot McNairy), his girlfriend Kerry (Anna Skellern) and her cousin Leo (Andrew Hawley), as they head off on a hiking and camping trip into Dartmoor’s Wistman’s Woods. Right from the start there are problems with the group dynamic, Brody being suspicious of the relationship between Kerry and Leo, and it doesn’t take long before the three of them are bickering and falling out with each other. As the nights draw in and various skeletons come tumbling out of their closets, they start to suspect that there might be something sinister in the woods with them.
“A Night in the Woods” really is very similar to “Blair Witch Project”, even more so than any other found footage outing in recent memory. This is immediately obvious right from the sombre opening announcement about the 3 missing campers, followed by the usual scenes of journey preparation, then vaguely eccentric locals talking about legends and myths (in this case a huntsman who hangs sinners and marks their foreheads with a cross). Throughout, the film is nothing if not predictable, Parry sticking resolutely to the standard formula, attempting to build tension through the breakdown of the characters’ relationships while tormenting them with noises in the night, leading up to the inevitable disappearance of one of the group. There’s nothing new here at all, and the film is beat for beat familiar right through till its entirely foreseeable ambiguous ending.
Thankfully, although entirely derivative, “A Night in the Woods” is very well made, and for those not yet bored by the endless found footage films which continue to flood the horror market, is a superior example of the form. Parry is a talented director, and manages to keep things interesting, doing a good job of balancing human drama and creepy suggestiveness. Though there aren’t many scares or indeed much in the way of horror in general, the film is actually all the more effective for it, and by hinting at the possible madness and violence of a couple of the characters, it’s more tense than it probably would have been with a chiefly supernatural focus. As a result, though not much really happens, the film is reasonably gripping, and moves along at a brisk pace through its thankfully not overlong running time.
Despite what was probably a low budget, the film never looks cheap, and benefits from some solid craftsmanship and production values. Simon Dennis turns in some excellent cinematography and surprisingly palatable shaky camera work, and though the usual scenes of characters justifying why they keep on filming during awkward moments does grate, the film is more believable and convincing as found footage than most of its type. Dennis also does a fine job of capturing the bleak beauty of the scenery, making great use of the dark, damp forests and lonely moors, and the location both adds an ominous atmosphere and gives the film a somewhat different look and feel to others of its type.
There’s certainly enough here to enjoy and to make “A Night in the Woods” worth catching for any viewers still up for watching unfortunate chumps wandering around and running into trouble. Though lacking originality or anything particularly frightening, it’s a well-made film that’s easy on the eye, sufficiently so to lift it above other recent found footage clones.
Richard Parry (director)
CAST: Scoot McNairy … Brody Cartwright
Anna Skellern … Kerry Hastings
Andrew Hawley … Leo