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BEYOND THE WOODS **
Directed by Sean Breathnach. Starring John Ryan Howard, Mark Lawrence, Ross McMahon, Claire J Loy, Irene Kelleher. Ireland 2017 84 mins Certificate: 15
Out now on VOD, Released on DVD on February 19th 2018 from Left Films.
If Enid Blyton survived and became a particularly coarse and unforgiving film reviewer, she might well have renamed this movie “Five Cunts Get Lost In The Woods”. Alternatively, it’s worth noting that, since the aforementioned unsympathetic characters spend so much screen time complaining about the increasingly bad, pervasive stench marring their pleasant weekend break, it could have been saddled with the more accurate title “The Stench”.
That stench is the sulphur emanating from a sinkhole “beyond the woods”, all too close to the remote holiday home at which a couple and their pals have reunited. Road closures, a really bad mobile phone reception and no internet (“It’s part of the charm of the place!”) have made them truly cut off from civilisation, and the scent from the sinkhole confines them to the house, where they banter about past stag dos, Guinness and gherkins. Ominous subjective prowling shots outside the house and the garden swing moving of its own accord both suggest a hostile presence at work, while the characters veer from melodramatic pronouncements (“Sounds like the Gates of Hell just got blown open!”) to unconvincingly delivered echoes of the eco-horror cycle from an earlier genre age: “I’ve always said it -nature’s a beast that cannot be tamed”.
We’re in vastly over-familiar territory here: annoying protagonists with no charisma or chemistry spend much of the movie getting spooked by strange noises at night, when not wandering around the forest in circles like Heather Donahue (take a shot every time you see a sign for “Holywell”!). Later, with distressing inevitably, the survivors shout each other’s names out with trepidation as they roam around with torches. A rumbling underscore strives to instil some sense of menace, but too often writer / director Breathnach (making his feature debut) falls back on hackneyed bathroom mirror scares or throwaway frissons, like the digital alarm clock with a display that defaults to “666” when no one is looking. The dialogue-heavy script gets bogged down with dull backstories about deceased loved ones and personal demons – detracting from Breathnach’s technical competence and the occasional eerie visual.
Other than being Irish-made and unfolding from a conventional third-person perspective there is nothing to distinguish this from acres of woodland-set, post-BLAIR WITCH found footage horror movies of recent years. The central force of evil is potentially interesting, but the kills are bungled, and too much is just unintentionally funny – notably the clumsily handled sequence in which one character accidentally stabs their mate (“It hurts!”).
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