Directed by Lucky McKee
Written by David Ross
Starring Agnes Bruckner (Heather Fasulo), Patricia Clarkson (Ms Traverse), Bruce Campbell (Joe Fasulo), Emma Campbell (Alice Fasulo), Lauren Birkell (Marcy Turner), Rachel Nichols (Samantha Wise), Kathleen Mackay (Ann Whales), Jane Gilchrist (Ms Cross), Catherine Colvey (Ms Leland), Marcia Bennett (Ms Mackinaw), Cary Charevoix (Ms Cary Lawrence), Colleen Williams (Ms Arbor), Jude Beny (School Nurse), Gordon Currie (The Sheriff) and Angela Bettis (Voice in the Woods)
1965: When she starts a fire in a forest that nearly burns down her parents’ house, Heather Fussulo, a rebellious and sullen teenager, is sent to the strict Falburn Academy, an isolated all-girls boarding school. She repeatedly hears voices in the surrounding woods and is plagued by strange nightmares – and then some of the other girls begin to mysteriously disappear.
In 2002 Lucky McKee wrote and directed the low budget independent psychological horror film ‘May’, starring Angela Bettis and Anna Faris, which received a lot of critical attention, won several awards and became a cult favourite. His next film ‘The Woods’, this time as director only, working from a screenplay written by David Ross, gathered dust for three years after it was made until finally being released on DVD in October 2006.
‘The Woods’ is a creepy psychological horror film, employing witchcraft as a kind of allegory for sexual repression, and is clearly influenced by Dario Argento’s hugely influential 1977 film ‘Suspiria’, as has been mentioned more than once in articles and reviews I have read. It has a deliberately slow pace that helps to create the atmosphere of soul-destroying oppression and tedium caused by the strict and repressive regime in the school. There is all kinds of repressed sexual imagery represented in scenes throughout the film. However, the pace is so slow that the sense of suspense does begin to dissipate after a while and there are no surprises to be found here. It is possible to surmise almost from the start exactly where the film is going and once it arrives there it does prove to be a rather flavourless, unsatisfactory and frankly botched climax. Having said that, it is a film that refuses to tread the same by-the-numbers path of most current horror films and there is much to admire here, including nice understated use of some Lesley Gore tracks, even if it perhaps never fires on all cylinders and ultimately disappoints more than not.
‘The Woods’ has a 67% fresh rating from twelve reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, although there are extremes of opinion expressed. Nick Schager calls it “polished and inventive”, but David Nusair thinks it “a complete misfire”. I think it is perhaps a misfire, but one that is certainly worth watching.
Review published 22 November 2009