I have no idea why The Woods, which screened at Fantastic Fest, is being released directly to DVD this week with no theatrical run, apart from a few festivals. The latest film from director Lucky McKee (May) is not a groundbreaking or innovative horror film, but it contains many of the elements that make horror movies appealing: screaming schoolgirls, spooky forces of nature, stylish camerawork, a good sense of humor throughout ... and the presence of Bruce Campbell. Some of you might suspect that Campbell was one of the main reasons why I chose to see this movie, and you'd probably be right.
The Woods is what I would call a good solid standard horror film. Wimps like me will appreciate a lack of extended torture sequences, which seem to be gaining popularity in contemporary horror films. There's a little gore, especially near the end, but it's nothing that we squeamish types can't block with one hand briefly shielding our eyes.
The storyline is simple and fairly predictable: Heather (Agnes Bruckner), who's in trouble for setting fires around the family home, is sent to an all-girls' boarding school by her overbearing mom (Emma Campbell) and almost silent dad (Bruce Campbell). The headmistress, Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson), gives Heather the oddest scholarship test ever. Heather ends up becoming one of the picked-on girls in the school; blonde bully Samantha (Rachel Nichols) nicknames her "Firecrotch" and her only friend is shy Marcy (Lauren Birkell). But apart from the usual schoolgirl dynamics, Heather has to deal with other problems. Ms. Traverse has been giving her some disturbing private lessons. A student who tried to kill herself mysteriously vanishes. And the one time Heather tries to escape through the woods that surround the school, she's completely terrified by what she experiences.