Studio: Vertical Entertainment
Director: Nicholas Woods
Writer: Nicholas Woods
Producer: Max Landwirth
Stars: Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro, Taylor Flowers, Michael Peter Harrison, William Kircher
Searching for her missing sister in a mysterious forest leads a young woman and her friends into an otherworldly nightmare.
Marylyn is missing. After writing some ravings in her journal about “a doorway leading to another world” and “a place where nature behaves differently,” the young woman took a trek into Cinder National Forest and hasn’t been seen since.
With her brother Martin, Martin’s fiancée Darcy, Darcy’s mentally troubled brother Edgar, and their comic relief British buddy Gerrik in tow, McKenzie sets out to find her missing sister. Before entering the weird woods, the quintet stops for a bite of exposition from local mystery man Leon. Answering McKenzie’s Craigslist ad for information, Leon confirms Marylyn’s cryptic claims of creatures, disappearing people, and portals to parallel dimensions.
McKenzie knows what this sounds like to outside ears. That’s why she keeps these secrets to herself. Pocketing a few vials of red liquid that Leon says will prevent haunting hallucinations, McKenzie hits the trail with her friends none the wiser to the otherworldly dangers in store.
Shortly after passing over a possibly paranormal threshold, Edgar experiences strange visions of a dead woman’s ghoulish ghost. Gerrik observes that it’s nearly 9pm, yet the sun stays high in the sky. Blood and iron shackles decorate the side of an outpost where everyone makes camp. Something unknown is undeniably overtaking the atmosphere. And that something threatens to mutilate everyone if they aren’t driven mad first.
During the late ‘80s heyday of video store blind rentals, before I had consistent access to Fangoria, entertainment choices were made based on cover art and a back-of-box blurb. With its poster featuring a lanky “Pan’s Labyrinth”-like creature and a summary citing cursed woods, murderous monsters, and dimensional doorways, “The Axiom” ticks both boxes for initial intrigue.
In that imaginary scenario, early teen me probably would have been pleased with the pickup. I don’t mean to suggest that writer/director Nicholas Woods’ debut feature skews toward younger audiences, because it definitely doesn’t. I merely mean to say that “The Axiom” reminds me of the mid-tier horror movies that were more commonplace a few decades back.
In other words, it doesn’t have the heft to become a title talked about in wide circles, much less turn into a franchise. But an estimable effort gives “The Axiom” enough of an identity to potentially earn a cult following. Think of it as the kind of low frequency radar blip you’ll randomly remember in passing and a friend might respond, “oh I saw that, it was pretty good.”
I imagine that anyone with similarly undemanding expectations for low-key chills will feel fulfilled too. Unfamiliar faces and guerrilla cinematography instantly out “The Axiom” as a microbudget movie. As far as grassroots horror goes however, “The Axiom” has a solidly developed story that helps it become one of the better-executed indies to swim in largely disappointing DTV streams.
At worst, aspects of the production come across as uneven, but never outright awful. Actors do okay for the most part, with their greatest sins being selling something using too much bug-eyed expressiveness or exhibiting plain personalities. Sparsely seen monsters generally meet their marks too, with only one entity, a cloaked man rocking weirdly wobbly tusks, looking like he dressed in an off-the-rack Halloween costume.
Word-wise, the script builds a story out of fractured folklore and other bizarre bits that could have sounded utterly laughable if issued from inexperienced mouths. Respectable credit goes to William Kircher, who chews on Leon’s detailed dialogue with gravelly gravitas. Kircher’s performance possesses the strength to carry “The Axiom” out of silliness and into seriousness by creating a grounded character to accentuate supernatural creeps.
Outside of the above, there isn’t much evaluative insight to add. Contrivances come into play to keep plot gears grinding, like the collective habit where no one mentions their strange experiences when a simple “hey, that happened to me too!” would solve certain mysteries early on. Still, “The Axiom’s” backstory packs more imagination than you’re likely to find in most “cabin in the woods” thrillers, even though its slow-burn spooks stay straightforward.
Not every movie has to burn down a barn. For those times when you just want satisfying smolder to hook your head for 95 minutes, “The Axiom” scratches an itch for appealingly average entertainment. You could certainly do a lot worse, as indie horror often doesn’t come much better.
Review Score: 70