Directed by Lucky McKee
Produced by Bryan Furst & Sean Furst
Written by David Ross
Director of Photograpy John R. Leonetti
Music by John Frizzell
Cast: Agnes Bruckner, Patricia Clarkson, Lauren Birkell, Rachel Nichols, Bruce Campbell

2006/81 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
2.35:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1

Review from the Sony Pictures Home Entertainment DVD

Movie trailers are a (fun) necessary evil that come in many shapes and sizes. Some only give us a hint (if that) of what the movie being advertised is about. While others give away way too much. (We can all probably think of a film which was ruined by a particularly generous trailer.) But, then there are those trailers which give us just enough information for us to fill in the blanks and imagine what transpires in the film. And when the movie doesn't live up to these expectations (or rather, predictions), the viewer is disappointed. Such is the case with THE WOODS, newly released on DVD.

Falburn Academy is an exclusive boarding school for girls. Due to some inappropriate behavior at home, Heather (Agnes Bruckner) has been brought to the school by her parents (Bruce Campbell and Emma Campbell (no relation)). She is resistant and has no interest in the school, or in meeting the headmistress, Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson). However, Heather passes the school's odd scholarship exam, and soon her parents are leaving her there. Heather meets a quite girl named Marcy (Lauren Birkell), and is immediately confronted by school bully, Samantha (Rachel Nichols). Despite the school's quiet appearance, Heather soon learns that it has its share of secrets. One of the students was recently hospitalized for a suicide attempt. There is a legend that years ago, a group of strange girls came to the school from the nearby woods, killed the then headmistress, and enslaved the student body. Heather begins to hear strange voiced coming from the woods and Ms. Traverse is constantly giving her strange tests. When some of the students disappear, Heather decides to learn what is really happening in the school.

THE WOODS was filmed in late 2003, but its release was delayed. (In fact, M. Night Shyamalan's THE VILLAGE was originally entitled THE WOODS, but the name had to be changed because this film had officially snagged the name first.) The film had reportedly been set for a theatrical release in 2004 or 2005, but it never materialized. When a film gets this kind of treatment and suddenly surfaces on DVD, there is usually an indication that something is wrong with it. I was hoping that this wouldn't be the case with THE WOODS. Well, the film isn't a complete disaster, but it's not without its share of problems.

Getting back to my earlier point, when I saw the trailer for THE WOODS, I envisioned a stylish film that also offered balls-out horror. Specifically, it was implied that witchcraft (or some sort of supernatural powers) would be involved and I expected a full-on showdown between Heather and one of the other characters. As it turns out, the film in my head was much more exciting than THE WOODS. (The ultimate example of this is INDEPENDENCE DAY, which I had hoped would be all about alien ships battling fighter jets, and not just a lot of talking.)

THE WOODS comes from director Lucky McKee, who made his directorial debut in 2002 with MAY. Now, I wasn't crazy about MAY, but it thought it had its moments and, as noted above, I was interested in THE WOODS. With THE WOODS, McKee has created a film which harkens back to the supernatural thrillers of the late 60s/early 70s -- specifically, the film reminded me of Polanski's ROSEMARY'S BABY. The film is somewhat slow and subtle and first half of the film, McKee (and screenwriter David Ross) gives us small clues about what is going on at Falburn Academy. McKee takes his time introducing us to the characters and allows a sense of creeping doom to permeate the film. (In this respect, the movie is similar to Argento's SUSPIRIA).

The problem with THE WOODS is that the "payoff" in the second half of the movie doesn't live up to the build up in the first half. Yes, there are some supernatural shenanigans at the end, but we are also forced to sit through several redundant scenes in which Heather seems to be doing the same thing over and over. (The visual of the discovery that a student is missing is very cool...the first time.) Granted, the finale may match the rest of the film in tone, but that doesn't mean that we didn't expect something bigger to happen. The film's other main problem is the character of Heather. She remains far too distant and cold throughout the film, and it's very difficult to relate to or care about her.

The fact that THE WOODS is a disappointment doesn't mean it's a total loss. Again, the movie sets up an interesting premise which contains trace elements of some classic films. McKee has taken an admirable risk in giving the film such a deliberate pace, it's just too bad that it didn't pick up in the end. The movie has a great look (although the editing is somewhat choppy at times) and there is one marvelous scene where two completely different songs are intertwined to complement one another. And although his use in the film is limited, it's great to see Bruce Campbell flexing his acting chops.

Those who saw Lucky McKee as a shining light in the cutting edge of horror may be let down by THE WOODS. The man who brought us one of the most disturbing scenes in cinema history pulls back on the reins for this film to create a quieter movie which is more mystery than horror. The problem is that there is little pay-off here and the film is simply dull at times. A stroll through an actual forest would probably be far scarier than this movie.

THE WOODS grows onto DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both the widescreen and full-frame version of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer looks very good, as the image is quite sharp and clear. I noticed no overt grain nor any defects from the source material. The colors in the film tend to be earth tones, but they still look very good. The rare appearance of blood truly stands out against the film's brown palette. The image has a nice amount of depth and the framing appears to be accurate. The DVD offers a very nice Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects, as well as nice music reproduction. The surround sound effects are very good and really accentuate the voices which Heather hears. The subwoofer effects come into play during the finale.

Aside from some bonus trailers, there are no extra features on this DVD.




There are no extras on this DVD.


This Film Features:

Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©

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