As you folks out there know, here at the ‘Corpse we’re huge fans and supporters of independent horror; we believe indie folks are the bedrock that the whole genre is based on. Whatever chance we get, we love to take a look at new, untested filmmakers, getting their feet wet in the medium we all hold so dear. Recently, we became aware of a Canadian film-house, Zell-Koj Studios; these guys already have two flicks to their credit this year, and I had the opportunity to check out their first effort, Dark Forest.
A group of four young women are going for a weekend camping trip, a “girl’s getaway”. One of their number, Emily, has a significant other named Peter that is really against the idea of her going off with a bunch of “bitches” that “aren’t really her friends”; it’s made obvious to us that the relationship is…a tad strained, so it’s no surprise when she sneaks out to go with her pals (and from what she packs, we get the impression she may have a more long-term absence in mind). The quartet makes their way to the campgrounds, unaware that another group of young people, two couples, are also spending a weekend in the woods near their campsite. We see the goings-on of both of these gatherings of young people…and are privy as well to the disintegration of Peter’s tenuous grip on sanity. He enlists the aid of a couple of drinking buddies to “get back” at the other women for “taking his girl away”, but it’s soon obvious that his plans may be more final than his low-wattage friends are prepared for…
From the opening scene, I got more than I was expecting from the camera work; there’s a dream sequence with some color saturation that was reminiscent of an old giallo combined with early ’80s goodness; this immediate familiarity was a good way to enter the story. As the film moves forward, there are some definite editing issues, but my biggest issue is that I feel like the story was all over the place. I don’t necessarily blame the writing as much as the pacing, but I do feel that writer/director Roger Boyer’s script might have been too ambitious, trying to do too much. Spreading the focus between the two unrelated groups of young people tended to muddy the water a bit for me. as there was no connection between them. As a consequence, it’s obvious that the group consisting of the two couples is there solely for the purpose of being in Peter’s way as he goes to massacre the group of girls; of course that’s why they’re there; there are plenty of similar throwaway characters in any slasher from the last thirty years or so. The problem I have in this case was that the script actually has some spots that piqued my interest in background of some of these secondary characters; I became interested in their stories as much (and in one case, more so) than the principal group, and this interest was left dangling as they were simply fodder. There’s some good writing there, and I feel there were two stories that could have been made from this film; combining them both into one relatively brief flick left me feeling kind of short-changed.
As far as the rest of the tale, it has its moments where it shines, some elements that are likely there for exposition’s sake, and other things that are implied but not explored. Again, the only real sin there is overreaching, and that’s not too unexpected for a first time flick.
The acting is about what you’d expect from a first-time indie flick; it has it’s highs and lows, but I kinda blame that more on some weakness in the dialogue than on the talent of the performers. Overall, it comes across at its worst average, and at its best very good. I have to give a particular shout out to Dennis Scullard as Peter; a visual combination of Norman Bates and a young Frank Sinatra, his portrayal of the possessive boyfriend who’s slipped a cog is impressive, and he sure as hell has the look of a psycho down pat. The special effects show some creativity, and there is no shortage of blood; considering the budget and resources these guys had, I think they’re done quite well.
I have the deepest respect for any indie filmmaker who takes their idea, writes a script, gets out there, and gets it done…so long as the passion is there. Now you Fellow Fans and I have seen more than our share of half-assed productions that some gold-digger threw together with a rented camera and a few pals just to try to grab a quick buck…but I’m talking about those who really seem to be trying to accomplish something, that have something to say and do their best to say it.
Based on what I’ve seen, I’m of the firm opinion that Roger Boyer and the rest of the good folks at Zell-Koj Studios are passionate and quite serious about what they’re doing; though this freshman outing has its issues, it definitely shows the tool-marks of a determination to bring something exciting to the screen. I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse first-time features, often with a lot less love of the genre than I see here.
So there it is; despite it’s flaws, Dark Forest still piqued my interest in this Canadian studio. It’ll be interesting to see how their craft improves as their experience grows.
Two cents lighter.