So, here we are around the campfire, friends…the hour is late, the flames are dying, and we have time for one more story. What about Madman Marz? The guy that killed his family, got arrested, but escaped execution and lives in the woods now, waiting? Or how about that guy out by Camp Blackfoot? You know, the caretaker that got burned by those guys and now lurks around the area, killing campers? What? What other camp? Crystal Lake? Aw, c’mon….not the Voorhees story again!
All of you reading this, I’d wager, know all of these stories — it’s kind of “Horror 101” for folks like us. How many of our favorite flicks have that weird/crazy/disfigured old person that due to a horrible crime/tragedy/accident slipped a cog and now wander the woods, waiting patiently for new victims to come along? It’s a staple, something that we like to talk about around our own campfires, and such tales have been making the rounds since long before films talked about them…but what about those backstories? Isn’t there more than the brief, five or six sentence history that we always here about such crazies? What do they do when there aren’t any victims about? What is life like for them?
Writer/Director Jeremy Benson tackles that very question, albeit in a pretty damned gripping and dynamic fashion, in his new film Girl In Woods.
Grace is recovering from some serious trauma in her childhood — from her memories, we gather that life wasn’t all butterflies and ponies growing up, and although we don’t see a lot of direct strife, we get that her parents had some serious issues — serious enough that her last memory of her father is his suicide. That’s a lot for a very young girl to handle, so we understand her medication and episodes. She does, however, seem to be getting on with her life — she heads out to a cabin in the woods (now now, it’s not that kind of flick; it legitimately is a nice getaway cabin) with her handsome boyfriend, Jim, who proposes to her once there.
Happily, she accepts, and despite another nightmare — which her understanding new husband-to-be takes in great stride; it’s obvious he’s in love with her — they spend a happy evening together, looking forward to the future. That immediate future involves a quick hike a couple miles or so into the woods, where Jim wants to share a beautiful waterfall with her. The pair enjoy their time in the wilderness, until a freak accident leaves Jim dead, and Grace alone, lost — and without her meds. Torn by grief and plagued by ever-increasing delusions, her grip on reality begins to slip, visions of her mother and father and grandfather haunting her dreams, and soon, her waking hours as well. As more and more of the ghosts that torment her reveal secrets buried deep in her mind, her physical survival begins to become less of an issue than that of her mental state…and what it will make her become. Will the monsters get her? Or is she the monster?
The most interesting thing to me in this film was the pacing in terms of the narrative. We start off with precious little info about Grace, and we’re with her during a really high point in her life — when things go south, we kinda lose track of time. I didn’t know after a little bit if a day or week had passed. At first, I found it frustrating, but as the film went on and I got deeper and deeper into the character’s mind, I really embraced this pacing. She’s certainly lost in far more ways than one, and Benson’s storytelling really made me feel that — we watch her evolve, sadly against her will, to become something to be feared rather than felt for.
Juliet Reeves-London as Grace does a great job in this, pulling off the difficult task of showcasing a descent into horror and insanity, all without seeming cartoony or falling into cliché. She presents a character that falls apart at the seams — she’s scared one minute, and contemplating the unthinkable the next. She’s calm, then she’s angry. She’s a little girl lost, and she’s a no-nonsense ass-kicker who’s not going down without a fight — and she does all of this in a way that evokes pity, yet still manages to be chilling in the final summation. Add in the support of Charisma Carpenter (who somehow doesn’t seem to have aged since Buffy) in a very creepy role as Grace’s mother, and you wind up with a flick that’s both viscerally and psychologically gripping. Jeremy London makes a solid turn as the unfortunate Jim, and Shaun Benson and Lauren Bayleigh White play the young Grace (ages 7 and 14, respectively) with impressive performances for actors so young. Although the film really plays out as a psychological thriller, some of the situations will make your guts churn just a bit, and though few, there’s some pretty tasty goodies in the gore department, just to keep you interested.
Benson himself said of the film that it “…is the birth of an urban legend; one of a mysterious savage that is believed to be killing people in the mountains. I want audiences to be disturbed by what is happening to Grace, and at the end understand the legacy these events leave behind.”
By the time I got to the end of the flick, that’s exactly where I was; I saw a story that framed out the beginning of what would become a campfire legend. When a storyteller can place you right where he wants you, I call that a successful film — in my opinion, Girl In Woods is just that. Like all flicks in our beloved genre, it won’t be for everyone — but if you can get into a good psych-thriller with some radical twists and gruesome moments — if you’ve ever wondered about the kind of things I talked about way up there at the beginning, you should check this one out.
GIRL IN WOODS premieres on cable VOD and Digital HD this Friday, June 3rd, from Candy Factory Films.