THE WOODS (2006)
Lucky McKee followed up his devious and gruesomely fun May with this David Ross written story of supernatural goings on at at all girls boarding school set deep in the woods. The story is set in 1965 and centers on troubled and trouble-making teen Heather (Agnes Bruckner) who is sent to the strict Falburn Academy by her mother and father (Emma Campbell and horror icon Bruce Campbell, who are not related.) and put under the guidance of the dean Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson). Upon entering, the rebellious Heather not only befriends the lonely and picked-on Marcy (Lauren Birkell) and meets the reigning mean girl Samantha (Rachel Nichols),but, also beings to have strange dreams of something terrifying deep in the woods. Heather hears tales of three witches who once entered the academy and brought carnage and death along with them. As her dreams become more and more ominous and girls begin to disappear, Heather may soon find out that there may be some truth behind the bedtime ghost stories and the fate of she and her schoolmates may have already been sealed.
The Woods is an atmospheric chiller that seems to be influenced by Dario Argento and his classic Suspiria, which dealt with a coven of witches in a dance academy. DIrector Lucky McKee gives the film a nice feeling of dread but, also gives it a touch of fairy tale whimsy in it’s story of school girls encountering supernatural forces in their school in the woods. His visual style is less flashy then Argento but, the earthy colors are rich and the production design not only evokes the era it takes place but, aids in adding that dark fairy tale element as well. The film was also a refreshing return to a more old-fashioned gothic style horror in the tradition of films like Horror Hotel or some of the Hammer horrors by taking it’s time to establish that something is very wrong and unnatural going on and relying more on atmosphere then gore, though, when the time comes, we get a good helping of that. The film moves well but, saves it’s big reveals and most horrific moments for it’s last act and it works and McKee delivers a final showdown between our heroine and the dark forces that is suspenseful, chilling and very spooky. The FX presenting the supernatural are very well orchestrated in both the visual and make-up departments and the sparingly used gore is quite effective. Add to that a very atmospheric score by John Frizzell…with some Lesley Gore tunes added in to give the film some added embiance of not only the time period, but, of teen girl angst…and you have a well crafted and satisfying supernatural horror that entertains and holds ones interest for it’s 90 minutes.
There is a good cast here, too and McKee gets good work from them. Agnes Bruckner is very strong as rebellious teen and resourceful heroine and creates a likable and tough girl who we believe can put up a fight against greater odds when needed. Clarkson is solid, as always, as the strict and yet caring Ms. Traverse but, also imbues her with an air of mystery to keep us guessing as to her true intentions. Campbell is effective as well, in a role that is far less comic then we are used to seeing him and his restraint makes the role work as Heather’s harried and concerned father. Rounding out is an also solid supporting cast of students and teachers that give the film a good helping of it’s atmosphere with their performances. A good cast that help make this old school supernatural horror work.
I like The Woods. It is charmingly old-fashioned at times and relies heavily on atmosphere which director McKee gives it plenty of. It saves it’s most shocking moments till it’s last act, thus making them more effective, and is supported by a good cast and some very good FX on a modest budget. Despite heavily evoking Dario Argento’s Suspiria at times, the film has it’s own style and gives us some unique moments and ideas within it’s more traditional story. No classic but, an effective and entertaining tale of schoolgirls and dark forces.
3 resourceful heroines.