Studio: Tribeca Film
Director: Richard Parry
Writer: Richard Parry
Producer: Allan Niblo, James Richardson
Stars: Anna Skellern, Scoot McNairy, Andrew Hawley
Three friends confront the horror of a mysterious local legend while camping in Dartmoor’s Wistman’s Woods.
“A Night in the Woods” has something that most other “found footage” thrillers do not have with its fully developed characters and strongly defined relationships. What it is missing is an original or frightening story that would put these personalities towards a good use.
Scoot McNairy of “Monsters” and “Argo” plays Brody, which is a name only one “o” away from accurately describing his personality, too. He is cut from that cloth of “found footage” archetypes that cannot put down a camera no matter what. In his case, however, he has a good reason. Sort of. Brody is more than a little bit creepy, as well as a wee bit insecure. Later in the story, it is revealed that Brody has a fetish for surreptitiously capturing his girlfriend Kerry on film partly because he is distrustful, and partly because he is unhealthily obsessed. A camping holiday in Wistman’s Woods of Dartmoor might be just what the doctor ordered for the couple’s still gestating relationship. Or it would be if Kerry’s cousin Leo were not tagging along. Brody is certain that Kerry and Leo have had a romance in the past. That the pair is related only intensifies that awkwardness.
The setup then backs the movie into a corner before the plotline is fully underway. The legend of the haunted forest where the trio intends to pitch their tent virtually mandates that potential victims be either witches or sinners. Since neither Brody, Kerry, nor Leo are eligible as the former, they have to qualify as the latter. This detail requires the primary players to display characteristics of arrogance, deceitfulness, and abject maliciousness.
Which is where “A Night in the Woods” stings itself with a double-edged sword in the characterization department. Suspicious activities, snarky commentary, and authentic emotions ranging from vengeful to scorned create dynamic group tensions and a triangle of saucy personalities ripe for daytime television. At the same time, that skin of contemptible behavior distances the characters from having a meaningful connection with the viewer. A “found footage” movie finally has characters carefully realized through strong performances, yet they are all given one too many unlikable traits. The portrayals make it a challenge for the audience to decide who would be best to disappear into the woods first.
The greater hole in the movie’s mythology is that it is vague to the point of being uninteresting. Resident drunkards at the local tavern toss back pints and fill the campers’ ears with a brief tale about “The Huntsman,” a mythical figure who carves crosses into the foreheads of sinners and hangs witches from tree branches in the shadowed forest. Those scant details are the extent of his motivation as well as that of the storyline.
With that rough template in place, the film explores the romantic relations amongst its three leads in an interesting, albeit melodramatic, first half of broken hearts and jilted lovers. The second half then disintegrates into a rambling assemblage of bright white night vision shots showcasing nondescript rocks, tree branches, and forest floors. Most of that time is spent through squinting eyes trying to see what is taking place. The remainder of those minutes is occupied with the realization that numerous other “found footage” films set in the woods have already told the same tale in a much more cohesive fashion.
When it is all said and done, “A Night in the Woods” has only upturned palms and shoulders against the neck to offer as an explanation for its existence. Fleshed out characters are unbalanced by an unoriginal storyline that borrows liberally from superior entries in the sub-genre. And a talented cast is misspent in a cut-and-paste film that is as irrelevant as it is derivative.
Review Score: 40