The woods

Director: Lucky McKee

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Lucky McKee's The Woods (2006) has a great soundtrack with a few little surprises of its own. Opening in 1965, Heather's family have essentially ditched her for rebelliousness & pyromania.

She's abandoned in one hell of a creepy reform school with snarky teachers lead by Miss Travers (Patricia Clarkson) who at first seems like the only potentially reasonable woman there.

There's also a bully-girl, a suicidal girl by no means getting the care she badly needs, with the whole shebang hemmed in by woods haunted by the spirits of three totally evil witches.

Heather (Agnes Bruckner) hears voices: "Save us. We love you." But she has apparently had this very experience since before arriving at the weird school. She seems additionally to have, upon occasion, telekenetic powers. Just the sort of "special" gal the spirit of an evil witch might like to possess.

On-the-edge Ann (Kathleen Mackey), the suicidal girl, is befriended by Heather. She, Marcy (Lauren Birkell), & Heather are the ones "they" have marked. Ann says, "We must do what they say. Or they'll kill everyone." That same night, Ann vanishes under the strangest circumstanes, absorbed into the woods.

The haunting manifests with increasing strangeness, with Marcy the next to vanish into a girl-shaped pile of leaves. Heather realizes she's the third "special" one. When the mean ol' bully Samantha (Rachel Nichols) actually tries to help Heather, she's shortly after found dead by hanging.

Meanwhile, poofy-haired Mom (Emma Campbell) seems slightly happier than Dad to be rid of their awful daughter. Dad has second thoughts about the abandonment, thus Heather's parents arrive to rescue her, beginning a long interlude outside the institutional school.

Dad is played by the always likeable Bruce Campbell, who the trailer for The Woods & his top billing strongly implied was the star of the film, though his role is only slightly larger than a cameo.

The WoodsBruce has (& deserves) lots of fans who felt ripped off by having been duped into believing this was a Bruce Campbell film, & it got some killer reviewers early on as a result.

But get over it. It's hardly a new gambit to pay a well-known star for one day of his time, then pull the bait-&-switch on the audience who gets a film actually played out by unsalable faces.

Personally, I wanted to see the film for the sake of Patricia Clarkson, too, but the advertising angle probably arose because no one believed Clarkson's fan base was anything but old ladies who only watch Masterpiece Theater. Campbell brings in the horror fans.

Rather than the bait-&-switch angle, seems to me that with the woman-dominated cast they could've found a significant role for Angela Bettis, the star of Lucky McKee's previous film May (2002) which is one of the great psycho killer films of recent vintage.

Angela is wasted in the "role" of "voice in the woods" so she must've been around the set for a day at least. I know that if I'd seen an advance trailer promising such a great actor of Clarkson, plus a new horror outing for the gal who made May an outstanding feature, I'd be shaking with expectation. Too bad promoters of such films never can figure out that peddling a worthwhile product with integrity is better than any scam.

Given how big the bait-&-switch cheat can get, I was actually quite pleased & surprised to see Bruce back in the story. As heather & her parents race away from the school, the woods will not let Heather go.

The woods become animate & literally grabs her father's car with roots & vines resulting in budget-eating crash. Heather awakens to discover her mother dead, her dad & herself hospitalized.

Miss Travers uses her own oil-black blood to silence dad. Heather is completely at the mercy of the headmistress, who returns Heather to the school. The plot has become unsatisfactorily zigzaggy due to the attempt to keep it lively with action more than with suspense. But when it comes time for the climax, it will begin to focus a little better.

Dad vomits up the headmistress's black blood & regains his senses at the hospital. At the girls' school, Heather is carted off by vines & limbs to the final half-spooky half-ridiculous ritual to free the evil wood-witches. Heather goes on a truly silly axe murder rampage, killing even the head wood-witch (Ivana Shein), reversing the evil, saving the school girls.

It has to be assessed as a fairly tawdry little film without much in the way of new ideas. But you can trust Lucky McKee to make even the oldest gags at least worthwhile, & we can be grateful for real acting instead of whatever that is so much cheesy horror delivers instead of actors who can act.

There's a sense of the creative team actually liking this kind of story & wanting to make an effective movie, unlike so many films which just seem like they're pumped out of a cost-effective assemblyline for exploitation value. The ounce of fond integrity for The Woods keeps me eager to to keep watching whatever next Lucky McKee directs.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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