The past of David, Richard, and Tilly is shown, as we see what they're each capable of, and to what depths they'll sink.
Damien Power's debut feature film is a searing survival thriller set in Australia, akin to Deliverance, Southern Comfort, and Eden Lake.
Eden Lake. 2008. Directed & Written by James Watkins
Starring Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Tara Ellis, Jack O’Connell, Finn Atkins, Jumayn Hunter, Thomas Turgoose, James Burrows, Tom Gill, Lorraine Bruce, Shaun Dooley, James Gandhi, Bronson Webb, Lorraine Stanley, & Rachel Gleeves. Rollercoaster Films/Aramid Entertainment Fund.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
There are many city v. rural films out there in the thriller genre. From Deliverance to any number of backwoods horror movies, such as the Wrong Turn series and plenty others. But not all of those have the effect of James Watkins’ Eden Lake.
Before Michael Fassbender broke out big time and in the days prior to Kelly Reilly’s huge break, Watkins crafted an equally pulse pounding and disturbing horror-thriller with these two in the lead roles. Aided by a script with some sharp teeth, as well as the tense action which keeps the film’s pace quick, Eden Lake will linger with you afterwards. This one boasts a terrifying finish that lets you get no rest, no matter that the rest of the film is brutally intense and shocking.
However, there’s no shock for shock’s sake. Rather, we get a glimpse into the world of misled youths whose lives were likely influenced into running down the drain by their equally nasty parents. Not everything is completely tight in the screenplay from Watkins, but he makes up for those bits with interesting writing and two (or more) lumps of tragedy stirred in.
Heading into the bush for a weekend getaway, Steve (Michael Fassbender) takes his girlfriend Jenny (Kelly Reilly), a nursery school teacher, for some swimming and a bit of camping. They lounge on a nice freshwater beach enjoying the surroundings, the warm weather. After a little time, some young hooligans arrive with their loud music, their big dog, and start to make things less pleasant. Led by the crass Brett (Jack O’Connell), they get on Steve’s nerves, especially when the dog gets a little too close to Jenny. Soon the kids leave, then Jenny and Steve enjoy their time alone.
The next morning, turns out the kids broke a bottle and punctured one of Steve’s tires. He chases them in town after seeing them on their bikes, and later finds one of their houses. But this is only the beginning. When the couple encounters the crew again and the situation turns ugly, Brett’s dog is accidentally stabbed and killed by Steve, in self defense. This prompts an all-out war between the couple and the teenagers.
Steve and Jenny may not make it home from their trip after all.
The first thing we see in Eden Lake is Jenny at the school where she teaches. There are little innocent kids, who play child-like games, they laugh and fool around. Jenny’s obviously good with them, comfortable in her career. So to see everything get juxtaposed here with the situation not long after with the older kids is interesting. We go from little innocent children to big bad teenagers who, somewhere along the line from then to now, grew up from being kids into becoming full-fledged monsters. Also, I love the transformation Jenny undergoes as a meek, mild-mannered teacher who later is forced to become a warrior and survivor. Particularly – SPOILER ALERT – once Steve is dead, Jenny is left to her own devices. Even before he dies, she’s got to take care of herself, and him due to his awful injuries. There’s this long line of character development in a short time. Leading up to the serious confrontations, Jenny appears as quiet, reserved, someone who doesn’t want to rock the boat. The tragic events which unfold throughout the film mold her into someone fierce and assertive, and somebody not afraid to defend herself at all costs. For the handful of really dumb moves by Jenny and Steve, there are enough instances of well-written characters and the main parallel between Jenny’s occupation/where she ends up to justify Eden Lake as a solid thriller. Late in the film, Jenny is made to commit a terrible act – another one of self defense in this plot – but it is devastating, for us and for her. This is probably the pinnacle of the parallel in her character.
Even from the small supporting roles of the teenagers we get solid acting. Above them all stands Jack O’Connell. Recently he’s done amazing turns in films like Starred Up, but in 2008 this was a performance to watch. He is a terrible young man capable of extremely vicious violence, his personality a sick and turgid cesspool. The depth of depravity comes out, especially in a scene that comes just after the one-hour mark; his enjoyment is far too evident, which makes the character so powerfully menacing. This film could have had any number of young people take the role of Brett. With O’Connell, the performance is disturbing and forceful and you hate Brett to the core. Note: in the last moments with his character, you can almost see a twinkle of something in his eye, but largely I believe it’s not regret; it’s the same twinkle people like Ted Bundy and other killers would get in their eyes, holding back their real selves just behind it.
Fassbender does well with his role and it comes off naturally. Although, it is ultimately Reilly whose talent sells Eden Lake into its suspense. We’re often taken by the danger of a thriller when it’s a woman in danger, simply because she’s a woman, men are after her, et cetera. Yet Reilly brings a life to Jenny. Again, she’s a timid sort of lady, though, as time progresses this timidity wears off, and her battle-face shows. The vulnerability of her character always shines through, most scarily in the last scene. But she commands your attention to the presence of her character, and you truly feel for her every step of the way, despite some of the dumb choices (fault of writing; not her performance).
The ending still leaves me in shambles. Really puts the cap on things as far as determining whether or not the behaviour of the teenagers has been ingrained in them over time.
A 4 out of 5 star film, indeed. There are certainly a few spots where Watkins needed to tighten up some things, such as a few truly strange choices the characters made. But none of that ruins what is an effective, violent, and edgy thriller. This one will take you to the brink. Then, just when you’re sure the lead character and you have each had enough, Watkins piles it on to leave us with that grim taste in the mouth. Trust me. Eden Lake is a keeper, and if you can forgive a few blemishes this will really hit the spot if you’re looking for a horror-thriller to damage you.
Deliverance. 1972. Directed by John Boorman. Screenplay by James Dickey, based on his 1970 novel of the same name.
Starring Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox, Ed Ramey, Billy Redden, Seamon Glass, Randall Deal, Bill McKinney, Herbert ‘Cowboy’ Coward, Lewis Crone, Ken Keener, Johnny Popwell, John Fowler, Kathy Rickman, & Louise Coldren.
Warner Bros./Elmer Enterprises.
Rated 18A. 110 minutes.
Truly, despite the praise he does certainly get, I do feel John Boorman is an underrated director. There are some of his films which are heralded properly. Others are not. I’m one of the ten people on the planet who loves Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic, even if he hates it himself. Then there’s The Emerald Forest, a film I never knew existed until it popped up for a special screening while I lived in Ontario, and one that surprised me after the credits rolled. There’s also Zardoz, which is not particularly great, but it’s weird, unconventional, sports Sean Connery in a mind boggling outfit, plus it tries to tackle an interesting science fiction topic regardless of the end result. On top of that, though, is the weight of Excalibur – possibly the King Arthur tale to end all King Arthur tales, featuring an enjoyable cast, excellent visuals, and a great story. Also, can’t forget The General, a true tale of Martin Cahill starring Jon Voight and Brendan Gleeson. So while he has a few films, including more than I’ve listed, which people seem to love, Boorman has his fair share of misunderstood titles, too.
Now, certainly Deliverance doesn’t, and never will, fall into the category of his films which people don’t give enough respect. However, I’m not sure people take the time to appreciate its masterpiece qualities. Too many will only refer to the infamous “Squeal like a pig” scene, which I’ve included above linked from YouTube. While that is definitely the most intense scene, as well as holds a particularly weighty significance, the film is so much more. It is one of the ultimate city dweller vs. hillbilly movies out there. Perhaps its greatness is due in part to the novel of the same name by James Dickey, published in 1970. Even more than that, the screenplay was adapted by Dickey himself. So I’m always keen on a story that gets shaped into a film by the same author. Add in a talented main cast, a raw and beautifully gritty aesthetic, luscious landscapes caught in perfect frames, and you’ve got Boorman’s greatest work in cinema.
A group of friends head out to the wilderness for a weekend excursion, in the forest, on the water. Canoes and gear in tow. Lead by the survivalist Lewis (Burt Reynolds), the group consists of mild mannered Bobby (Ned Beatty), easygoing Ed (Jon Voight), as well as Drew (Ronny Cox). When first they arrive in hillbilly central, Drew befriends a young boy, clearly the victim of inbreeding, and they play “Dueling Banjos” together; afterward, though, Drew tries to shake the boy’s hand and receives the cold shoulder. Brushing off this early, strange incident, the men head further to find someone to drive their vehicles down to the end of the river where they plan on canoeing.
Except the vast Appalachians hold many horrors. And when the city men run into a couple disgruntled mountain men their weekend outing goes from wild to worrisome. Once an act of hideous physical violence is committed against Bobby, the equal act of violent retribution by Lewis propels the four friends into not a fight for their lives, but for their very humanity.
If they’re lucky, they’ll see the city again. Someday.
“We‘re going to rape this whole landscape,” Lewis (Reynolds) sadly tells his friends in the opening moments of the film; he’s referring to the destruction of beautiful natural spaces to create man-made, artificial spaces. So when the mountain men take the city boys hostage and one of them proceeds to rape Bobby (Beatty), these words echo through our ears. The rape of Bobby is a metaphor – it is the mountain, the landscape fighting back by proxy.
Also, early in the movie we see Ed (Voight) unable to kill an animal. Later he’s confronted with one of the mountain men and similarly can’t bring himself to shoot the bow’s arrow, which demonstrates the idea that Ed sees all life as sacred or precious, even in a case where he’s being hunted alive; this is the fundamental difference between Ed and Lewis, but most importantly between Ed and the dangerous men in the woods.
One of the most impressive contrasts in the entire film is near the end, after Ed and Bobby are sitting down at a table with a crew of old folks. They all start to eat, as Ed comes in last. He sits down and tries to put his best face on, but bent over his ready meal Ed cries a little, almost bursting out in front of everyone. It’s because Ed finds himself back amongst the civilized, even if they’re still down South, out in hillbilly county. Such a stark difference from the other mountain people he’s met out there, and that’s sort of what hits him – how certain people can be so hateful, disgusting, evil, while other people in the same area are welcoming and hospitable.
The acting in Deliverance is part of why the film works. If lesser acting talent were employed, Boorman would never have gotten the resonance out of this plot and story that’s intended. Reynolds is always a treat, especially in many of his early movies. But above all else, it is the performances of both Beatty and Voight which make the whole thing so special, and definitively powerful as one of the best films of the 1970s.
Voight provides us with one of the best characters because, as I mentioned, the contrasts and parallels through which we watch the character of Ed are a large reason for the movie’s excellence. Via Ed we see the city vs. rural battle, as well as a very human quality. With all the nastiness, from the mountain men and later the city boys themselves, there is a thread running through Deliverance concerning humanity – what it is, how one holds onto it in times of terrifying strife and pain, how we cope with the inhumanity of others, and more. On the other side of that there is Beatty’s character Bobby, whose sexual assault is the catalyst for murder; though, I would say definitely justified. But in his case the idea of justice also comes into the situation, whether or not murder can be justified under certain circumstances. Also, Bobby represents an idea of manhood – the covering up of Lewis killing the mountain men initially is supported by Bobby, as he quips “I don‘t want this gettin‘ around.” A lot of themes happening here intertwined with the characters, with the construction of masculinity hovering around heavy after the rape. So having quality actors such as Voight and Beatty in the meatiest roles is a huge success. There’s a range in these two which lends itself to the thematic elements present, and in turn we also get two iconic performances viewers will never forget easily.
A landmark film of the 1970s. 5 stars. From a more fearless time of filmmaking, both in terms of technique and also of story, Deliverance absolutely delivers the goods. There are too many amazing moments in this film to list them all one by one, but hopefully I’ve covered some of the best, most inspiring aspects of this amazing and brutal movie. John Boorman will be remembered most for this, no matter how many great pieces of cinema he delivers. The examination of city life, and justice, versus rural backwoods style living and their draconian forms of so-called justice; the performances of Jon Voight and Ned Beatty particularly; and Boorman’s capturing of nature, while unnatural things happen within it – all these aspects make up the cinematic classic that is Deliverance. Perhaps the most perfect movie about men surviving in the backwoods. Either way, tread lightly. Though this is a solid movie with tons to offer, it isn’t always easy to watch.
Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort. 2014. Directed by Valeri Milev. Screenplay by Frank H. Woodward.
Starring Anthony Ilott, Chris Jarvis, Aqueela Zoll, Sadie Katz, Rollo Skinner, Billy Ashworth, Harry Belcher, Joe Gaminara, Roxanne Pallett, Radoslav Paravanov, Danko Jordanov, Asen Asenov, and Kicker Robinson. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Rated R. 91 minutes. Horror.
The shipwreck which was Declan O’Brien at the helm of several Wrong Turn sequels has finally stopped.
With Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort, the reins of the franchise has been handed over to Valeri Milev.
Though I’ve not seen anything by Milev before, I’ve wanted to get a look at his film from 2013 called Re-Kill. However, if this is any indication, I’m not holding my breath on it being something spectacular. The sixth film in this series is not the worst, certainly not, but it’s not good in any way either.
While some of the gore works, and this instalment isn’t hellbent on the awful CGI which plagued O’Brien, there is a serious lapse in the series logic when it comes to the characters and the setting, and in turn the whole plot itself. Not to mention, Milev is far more intent than O’Brien even was in his tenure as director to bring more nudity and sex into the movies. I’m not afraid of a bit of nudity in horror, there are plenty of solid horror films that do have nudity in them, but the only purpose these Wrong Turn films have had, especially those O’Brien directed, to use nudity is simply to try and keep people interested, or to perhaps they truly try and skew towards the male demographic. Either way, there are a ton of problems with this movie, just as much as some of the other entries in the franchise overall.
Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort throws so much of the little sense that exists in the franchise out the window.
Danny (Anthony Ilott) finds out, suddenly, that he has an inheritance waiting for him at the Hobb Springs Resort. He and his girlfriend Toni (Aqueela Zoll), Bryan (Joe Gaminara), Jillian (Roxanne Pallett), Vic (Rollo Skinner), Rod (Billy Ashworth), and Charlie (Harry Belcher) head out to the backwoods for the old hotel.
Of course, lurking in the hills of West Virginia as always are the three brothers: Saw Tooth (Danko Jordanov), Three Finger (Radoslav Parvanov), and One Eye (Asen Asenov). They continue to kill, maim, eat.
At the Hobb Springs Resort, Danny and his friends are greeted by brother and sister creepy duo, Sally (Sadie Katz) and Jackson (Chris Jarvis). The pair are hospitable, if not a little strange. Soon, though, an older vacationer at the resort goes missing. Sheriff Doucette (Kicker Robinson) asks them to keep a look out, pass around a flyer to see if anyone can help find the woman. However, she is long gone – probably chopped up for dinner by the inbred brothers.
Eventually, Bryan begins to discover things about the Hobb Springs Resort, terrifying, dark secrets, and things for him, as well as his friends, will never ever be the same.
So one of my initial beefs happens quickly.
Beginning with the last Wrong Turn entry, there’s this dumb trend of opening the movie with a “clever” (I use that in the lightest sense) way of using the dead/severed bodies of the brothers’ victims to give the number of the sequel. So, for Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines, it was a severed hand that opened up with its five fingers stretched underneath the title. Now we get Roman numerals all of a sudden – probably because the filmmakers couldn’t figure out a way to plausibly get two hands to show 6 fingers without it looking clumsy. As if it made any differences: two bodies fall roughly in the shape of VI to help us spell out Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort. Just one of the reasons this sequel is another bad one.
When the old woman gets killed, it is so bad. An axe gets tossed at full-force and not only does it throw her back to the wall, it apparently lifts her a foot off the ground before pinning her to it. I mean – it’s almost as bad as the opening kill in Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, which I found to be too over-the-top. Again it’s not like I’m looking for a level of total realism from these movies, but there’s also got to be a degree of logic in some senses. There’s enough brutality in these movies that it can still be effective without having to get cartoonish.
My biggest problem with this one is a combination of things.
First of all, I find Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort to be, by far, the most sexualized of all the sequels. Declan O’Brien started this, albeit only subtly, in Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead. Even though I personally found the 4th film, Bloody Beginnings, to be better than most, he still got worse with it in that one; right from the opening scenes. Then the 5th went the same. Now, it seems like director Valeri Milev and writer Frank Woodward were intent on making sexuality a large aspect of this story. Some horror benefits from an angle of sexuality – most recently, It Follows uses the premise of sexual encounters to head into very interesting territory, and a few of my favourite classics from David Cronenberg such as Videodrome, Shivers, and Rabid all have sexual elements yet they work to serve a purpose.
Second, I just can’t get past the jumbled nonsense that the Wrong Turn series has become. Starting with the last sequel, Bloodlines, there has been a serious neglect of logic in regards to the characters of these films. I know this is not meant to be expertly crated horror like something you might expect from Rosemary’s Baby. All the same, you’d think they would try to keep the logic together.
I mean, how does this sister-brother combo of Sally and Jackson even fit in? Where did they come from? My understanding, especially from what’s discussed in Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, is that the effects of inbreeding only got worse and worse with each round of procreation in the family. It doesn’t make any sense to me that Jackson and Sally look normal. How are they not raving lunatics just like One Eye, Saw Tooth, and Three Finger? My problem in the last movie was the character of Maynard, and how he was seemingly able to coral the three brothers with a combination of a dominant attitude and physical violence, yet the brothers are supposed to inbred, unruly, wild, and immune to pain!? It just makes no sense, whether someone is supposedly part of the ‘family’ or not, that the three brothers allow themselves to be harnessed and controlled into doing what some third party wants.
Still, it makes no sense how Sally and Jackson are the only two normal, and actually attractive, people between the clans of hillbillies. Then there’s Danny, of course, who they’re trying to lure into the family tradition of brother-sister-cousin fucking, and Danny looks as normal as anybody. These inbred brothers have been around since 1974 – that’s what we know from Bloody Beginnings and its opening scene – so where did these branches of the family come from and how did none of them turn out to look like the brothers? We clearly see there are others involved in these so-called clans, later in the movie, and they’re all haggard, too! So it’s just ridiculous to have these two good looking actors there in the middle of it meant to be part of an inbred cannibal family. Too much suspension of disbelief in this case.
In a Q&A over at Fangoria, screenwriter Frank Woodward actually said he likes where there can be a big world in a story where so many other smaller stories can be told. Unfortunately, Mr. Woodward went too wide with this one and forgot to try and link things together. If perhaps there were some other chains binding Last Resort with the other 5 films, even the last terrible one, then maybe it would have worked a little better. Instead there is a tenuous connection to the series as a whole, and after that takes hold I find it hard to enjoy much else in the movie.
I can give this a 1 out of 5 stars. Honestly, I know some people think I’m nuts for enjoying Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings the way I do, even though that’s only a 2.5/5 stars for me, not much better than this one. However, at least – for all its bad acting – the 4th film went for the prequel angle, we got to see the brothers before the initial events of the first Wrong Turn film, and it really started to setup a mythos of its own as a franchise, in my opinion. I actually couldn’t stand the 3rd movie, Left for Dead, but I liked that even more than I could enjoy Last Resort. Most of the other movies in this series suffer from poor written – varying degrees, but all suffer from the same symptoms. The problem I have with Last Resort is that it totally fumbles the logic of its own series, as was the case in the last entry, and I can’t get past that. I’m able to get past it enough to rate it better than Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines, because at least this one had a few good gory moments; that last one was just off-the-wall nonsensical in too many ways.
Either way I cut it, this to me is definitely one of the poorer entries in the series. It pushes way too hard to sexualize the horror, including straight up naked women getting cut up, and to me that’s a staple of 1980s horror I’m not a fan of – I’ve explained this enough already, just does not serve a purpose for me in horror. There are other movies in the genre I do enjoy that have nudity, but they at least back things up with actual terror, some better writing, and decent acting – some of these Wrong Turn movies, especially this one, go too hard for the boobs and blood. I’m not into it. That, coupled with a lack of sense in the screenplay, really makes for an awful film.
I’ll never ever watch this again unless someone kidnaps me and forces it upon me, even then I’d fight like hell. These last two in the series have been just downright garbage. For good backwoods horror maybe check out a classic like Just Before Dawn, or a less horror-ish effort of backwoods survival in Southern Comfort or my favourite of that genre, the obvious choice, Deliverance.
Another one of these on the way for 2017? Oh mercy. I’ll see you then, and we can talk about how awful that might be. Though, I always wait to judge for myself. Maybe someone can breathe life into a series that once had potential, but has long since been ravaged – mostly by Declan O’Brien, now Valeri Milev has joined in on the assault. No idea who will be directing the next one. You can be sure it won’t be anyone too familiar, or maybe they’ll choose someone from the previous pool of directors. Jesus, we’ll see…..
Preservation. 2015. Directed & Written by Christopher Denham.
Starring Wrenn Schmidt, Aaron Staton, and Pablo Schreiber. The Orchard. Not Rated. 90 minutes.
I’m a fan of the survival thriller sub-genre, whether it’s something strictly thriller based, or a film that’s a little more horror oriented. I’ve enjoyed films like Southern Comfort, the classic Deliverance, and even horror survival movies such as the 1981 cult classic Just Before Dawn and more recently Eden Lake. Preservation is a pretty good little movie, but fails to reach the heights of the movies I’ve previously mentioned. Christopher Denham (most of you will remember him from various projects as an actor like The Bay, Argo, a small role on The Following, and the excellent sci-fi indie Sound of My Voice) did a really great job directing his first film in 2008 – a found footage horror called Home Movie about one family’s harrowing path to madness. I really loved that movie/own it. While I do enjoy Preservation, and think there are several awesome aspects to it, I don’t enjoy it near as much as his previous effort.
This movie tells the story of Mike Neary (Aaron Staton – most recognizable as the face of the video game L.A Noire) and his wife Wit Neary (Wrenn Schmidt), along with Mike’s brother Sean (Pablo Schreiber – the well-known Porn Stache from Orange is the New Black), who take a camping trip together out into the great outdoors. Mike and Wit are having some intimacy issues, as his job seems to be coming before their relationship – not to mention the fact that early on we see Wit is hiding a possible pregnancy from her husband. Further than that, Mike’s brother Sean has recently come home on leave from the army. Or at least that’s what he first told Sean. Once in the woods, things start to change.
After they go to sleep on their first night out, the three of them wake up: all their belongings have vanished, including Sean’s loyal dog, and each of the three have a large X marked on their forehead with marker. From there things become a gripping story of survival, as Mike, Sean, and Wit have to defend themselves against unseen assailants hiding amongst the trees of the forest.
There were a few surprising moments throughout the film. I wasn’t totally shocked or anything – the kills weren’t particularly gruesome. At least not for someone like myself who watches a ton of horror, and I do mean a ton. Too much even. I’m not totally desensitized. Some say they are, but that’s too bad for them. I still have fun and get excited and get freaked out at the movies. Preservation didn’t really have any awful kills. Though, they were done well, I must say. I liked the tension mostly. Denham did a great job at drawing out the suspense and really grinding on the tense moments. One specific scene I really enjoyed was when Mike gets trapped for a few minutes in a portable outhouse – I thought the tension was thick as hell here. Really good stuff. Being a horror hound, I would’ve enjoyed more raw kills here. This was a good movie, decent enough, but could have definitely turned things up a notch with a bit more gore. Maybe. Maybe not, as well. There was just something missing along with all the tension Denham managed to work into the movie.
One thing I did enjoy was the character of Wit. Past here, we’re getting into SPOILER TERRITORY, so please – if you don’t want to get the movie spoiled you should turn back now!
I think Wit’s whole situation, involving the initially hidden pregnancy, really played into the whole plot and helped her character stay very interesting. Personally, I found the aspect of her not being able to shoot an animal and then having to face off against real human killers a little tired. This sort of angle has been played out far too many times. What I really did enjoy about Wit was the fact she was about to become a mother. I think once we discover these are just kids hunting them down for, basically, a laugh, it really becomes something much more intense for Wit particularly. She has just discovered awhile ago that motherhood is upon her. Now, all of a sudden, these kids are reigning terror upon her life. I mean – if that’s not birth control food for thought, then what is? This angle of the plot was really interesting for me, and fresh. We’ve seen the kid killer thing, even the pregnancy plot, but combining the two worked here. Not exactly unique or wholly fresh material. Just executed nicely.
This is a pretty good little thriller with a bit of horror thrown in. I would mostly call this a thriller. Definitely a psychological aspect. There are a couple really good performances. All three of the main characters are pretty excellent. Though, Pablo Schreiber doesn’t have a huge part I really did enjoy him here. Usually he seems to be pigeonholed into playing the creepy jerk, or the weirdo, the psychopath, whatever – here, he does a great job at playing an outsider type character, but essentially a good guy. He has some acting chops, I’ve always thought that since first seeing him. Aaron Staton is pretty good here, as well. Mostly, though, it is the Wrenn Schmidt show in Preservation. She plays a complex female character who isn’t perfect, who gets the hell beat out of her, and who has to do things no expecting mother would ever want to have to do – and she comes out of it a whole different kind of lady. I loved her performance. This was definitely the shining point.
One other thing worth mentioning before I clue things up – the score is a real treat, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Really added a nice element to the entire film. I’d actually enjoy having it as a standalone soundtrack. Great work.
All in all, this is about a 3 out of 5 star film. I didn’t think it was amazing, but I’ve absolutely seen other movies in the same sub-genre that didn’t satisfy me near as much. Christopher Denham is a pretty good horror director. I’ve enjoyed a lot of his acting – Sound of My Voice is probably his best work in that sense. I do prefer Home Movie over this, although I’d absolutely, and will absolutely, watch this again. This goes recommended for people who enjoy the sub-genre. If not, you may walk away from this less than thrilled. For the fans I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Just don’t expect Denham to have reinvented the wheel on this one. Plus, it’s one of the rare modern survival thrillers where you don’t have to watch a woman get sexually assaulted, or have the implications of such things happening off screen – nowhere to be found here. Personally I don’t shy away from something just because of such things, but I do hate movies that use it as a silly exploitation move. Luckily, Denham does no such thing. Sit back, watch a bit of thrilling fun. Might not be the best of the sub-genre, though, it beats some of the lesser titles to death.
BackWoods. 2006. Dir. Koldo Serra. Screenplay by Serra & Jon Sagalá.
Starring Gary Oldman, Virginie Ledoyen, Paddy Considine, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Jon Ariño, Lluís Homar, and Kandido Uranga. Lionsgate.
Rated 14A. 97 minutes.
★1/2 (DVD release)
This is one of those films I may never have heard of, if only maybe for a late night search spree on lesser known Gary Oldman flicks, except for the fact I stumbled across it in a $5 bin at a local rental place a few years back; in fact, the disc still has the store’s sticker on it to this day. I saw it, realised that not only was Oldman in it but also Paddy Considine of whom I’m a really big fan, and snatched it up quickly. Turns out it wasn’t just a decent little snag for five bucks. It’s a quality movie. An old school backwoods style thriller. There are times it not only feels set in the 1970s, I truly felt a lot of moments could’ve almost been filmed back then, as well. There’s certainly moments of homage towards both John Boorman’s classic Deliverance, as well as Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 dramatic revenge thriller Straw Dogs. Mainly there’s just a really great nostalgic feel about the story and the setting, which comes across quite well.
BackWoods sees two couples, Paul (Oldman) and Isabel (Sánchez-Gijón), as well as Norman (Considine) and Lucy (Ledoyen), venturing into the Spanish back country. Paul and Isabel now live in the Basque region after they married. Norman, and his young wife Isabel, are heading to visit. An idyllic vacation in the forest turns to a nightmarish situation when Paul and Norman stumble across a deformed little girl who has been locked up in a small shed-like structure, pad locked and hidden away. They bring her back to Paul and Isabel’s home in the woods. But not long after, local men from the village show up looking for the girl, and all is not as it seems in the quaint little pocket of Spain. Paul and Norman find themselves facing a desperate and brutal situation, fighting for their lives, as well as those of their wives.
This goes down some of the same roads we see in Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Specifically, the character of Norman is really pushed to his limits here. Initially even the sight of a rabbit being killed by Paul is shocking to him; there’s a lingering shot of Considine looking fairly troubled by watching the rabbit die. However, Paul tells his friend something which resonates through the whole film – “there are hunters and prey, Norman… it‘s the only fucking truth in this world.” While Paul understands the human nature of hunter and prey, Norman doesn’t quite get it. His rude awakening comes later in the film when the men coming to look for the deformed girl appear to be more ruthless than he could have ever imagined. It’s a really great way to introduce these themes, all starting with just a tiny little rabbit. Nice touch.
I really enjoy how this film stayed mostly as a dramatic thriller. It had a few little elements of horror (the backwoods ‘battle’ between city folk & villagers + the deformed girl locked away in the woods/ et cetera), but it didn’t stray into full on terror or anything. This works really nicely as a 1970s style thriller. It’s also particularly performance driven, as opposed to plot. While the plot is deceptively simple, the characters here are rich and very full.
For instance, Oldman’s character Paul is a pretty diverse character. There is a lot to him. I get the feeling he sort of went out living in the forest with his wife as a kind of challenge. One aspect I enjoyed once the villagers lay siege on Paul and the others is how there was so much tension between the two sides. On one hand, Paul feels he belongs there, and he does because he already lives there; he made it his home. The other side, the villagers, see him still as an outsider. Worse still, he has clearly wandered into their world. He is not one of them, regardless of how well he hunts and navigates the male-dominated world of the villagers.
This leads me to another part of BackWoods I enjoyed a lot. Whereas a lot of films might have taken up a portion of the running time drawing out the deformed girl’s story, rounding things out and maybe giving her some kind of history, Koldo Serra leaves intrigue to spare. We don’t get any definitive answers on what exactly the deformed girl is doing out in the woods, in the sense of who she is or where she came from – it’s simply a plot element. It sets up the city versus nature theme running throughout the film, which ultimately drives Oldman’s character. Norman, Considine’s character, is also affected by this theme, as he is even less of the “back country” type than Paul. He is even more thrown into chaos because of how far removed from that lifestyle living in the city keeps him. There’s even a scene where Norman raises his gun to kill a rabbit of his own – ultimately, he is unable to actually pull the trigger. This sets the stage for the real burning question to come later – can he pull the trigger when it’s more than a rabbit staring down the barrel of his rifle? We get the answer later in a very tense, horrifying scene. Of course, what happens then sets off a whole other chain of events.
The entire presentation of these themes is really well done, and made the film more than just a backwoods thriller. It lifted this from out of simple genre fare. This could very well have been some exploitation film, a cheap grindhouse style movie. Instead, it becomes a tension-filled dramatic thriller.
For the most part, a lot of BackWoods surprised me. I figured it might go down the same road as similar films. Instead, it subverts a few of my expectations. For instance, the scene where Norman is finally forced to either pull the trigger, or else face possibly terrible consequences, I really didn’t expect it to pan out the way it ended up going. I was happy because I thought Norman wasn’t going to change whatsoever as a character. His actions both change him and create more issues for his character to deal with. It’s really great stuff.
The ending, as well, was not something I particularly saw coming.
This can safely be categorised as a 4 out of 5 star film. There isn’t a whole lot wrong with it, but it’s not perfect whatsoever. I think Gary Oldman and Paddy Considine did a really wonderful job fleshing out the characters they portrayed. Particularly, Oldman gives a strong and emotional performance, unlike a lot of the roles I often enjoy him in, and I don’t know how more people don’t talk about this one, or at least mention it in passing – solid lesser seen role by Oldman. There are also a couple excellently paced chase sequences which help move the film along nicely. The pacing was helped by how the plot never gets too bogged down in one area, however, that’s also a drawback – I wanted to know more about Paul and Isabel because it seemed there was more to their relationship than what we were given. While sometimes it’s nice when less is more, there are case, like BackWoods, where I could have even done with an extra few scenes just to really give us a portrait of their lives. Oldman does such a spectacular job with his character, I feel even more justice might’ve been done to the film in general had they provided more insight.
Regardless, BackWoods is a pleasant surprise. When a lot of tripe gets doled out in terms of thriller films, this is a refreshing little movie that doesn’t go down all the expected routes.
While the DVD is fairly lame, providing only the film itself (though the picture/sound is beautiful & it looks gorgeous in widescreen) and a trailer, I highly would recommend anybody who can get their hands on a copy of the film do so – it is worth your time. I don’t watch it often, when I do I’m always impressed with the thrill it provides. If you’re a fan of Oldman, Considine, or just those gritty 1970s revenge thrillers in the vein of Straw Dogs and the backwoods city versus nature themes found in classics like Deliverance & even less praised titles like Southern Comfort, this will no doubt quench your thirst. You can do far worse for a movie night than BackWoods.