Fed up of found footage films? Wish they would just stay lost in the woods? Well this British Blair Witch from director Richard Parry isn’t going to do much to get you back on board as it’s more likely to leave your stomach churning from another shaky-cam extravaganza.
That said, if you enjoyed the last couple of Paranormal Activity films or any other number of lazily shot and scripted found footage horrors from the atrocious The Devil Inside to 2010’s marginally better The Last Exorcism, you could do worse than this well-acted little shocker.
While A Night in the Woods adds nothing to the already saturated found footage sub-genre like, say, the super powered capers of Chronicle, it does have a vaguely interesting threesome of lead characters, admirably played by capable actors who improvised much of the dialogue. We first meet brash American Brody (Monsters’ Scoot McNairy) and his beautiful British girlfriend Kerry (Anna Skellern) as they prepare for a camping trip to Dartmoor’s Wistman’s Woods, stopping off along the way to pick up Kerry’s cousin Leo (Andrew Hawley).
The character dynamics are the most interesting element of the film and it feels as though more thrills, twists and turns and a far greater sense of dread could have been gleaned from the odd love triangle that develops between a boy, his girl and her cousin. Yes that sounds weird but there are surprises in store as to the motivations of some of the characters and even who one claims to be.
Brody is amiable and amusing as the American belittling Britain’s Stonehenge in favour of his own country’s Grand Canyon and taking an instant dislike to the lothario Leo for reasons that become increasingly clear. But as the woods grow darker and the night gets longer, it is clear that Leo isn’t the only one with things to hide.
The found footage technique is justified continuously by dialogue between the characters. Kerry complains about Brody’s need to film everything. Leo has even brought his own camera along for the trip allowing perspective to shift between the two characters’ cameras and finally to Kerry as she takes one of the cameras herself. They watch previously filmed footage on laptops and an iPod, giving the film a clever way of showing revealing flashbacks about the characters. It has to be said that this is actually not a bad looking film (for found footage) with the opening half particularly having some very attractive cinematography from DOP Simon Dennis.
It’s just a shame that it all descends into sub-Blair Witch running around in the woods, screaming hysterically, and getting bumped over the head by unseen forces, perhaps local legend ‘The Huntsman’. These found footage films work best when a light on the camera illuminates the dark night, heavy breathing can be heard from the camera operator, and someone can be heard screaming in the distance. But when so many other films have done this to death, these scenes now drag and become quickly repetitive.
It’s a blessing found footage films are so short as this one, like so many before it, fills most of the last twenty of its eighty minutes with shaky camera footage of the trees blurring past as a girl screams from behind the camera. The first half’s interesting character relationships give way to something much less exciting but still a cut above many of the other found footage horrors of recent years.
See it if you like this sort of thing and you’re not looking for anything fresh, but if you’ve had enough of found footage, you’ll probably wish they never picked up the camera in the first place.