Atmosphere and indulgent imagery makes this an interesting, if not altogether successful woodlands horror.
Synopsis: When a man living alone in the woods saves the life of a young woman, they are forced to coexist. Chaos ensues when the woman makes a terrifying discovery in the woods behind the man’s home and unleashes something truly haunting.
We initially meet William (Ryan Blakely) in the woods, far from other people and carrying out what amounts to his day-to-day life. That quiet is soon disrupted by the arrival of Emily (Jenny Raven), a woman he finds injured in the area. Their initial interactions are tense, with William having adjusted to not speaking to other people and Emily keen to probe the situation. That probing leads to further issues between them when she discovers that William may have a dark secret.
The real strength of Woodland Grey is in director Adam Reider’s handling of the swirling confusion that punctuates much of the film’s action. This is a film that is not in a rush and certainly has even less urgency to provide answers to the many questions it offers. Instead, there is confidence in the repeated phrases, images and other motifs, including an ominous whisper that holds it all in place. While not all of these images come to something entirely satisfying, the opportunity it affords to extend that well-realised imagery is welcome. From an initially slow pace, it picks up and starts to pick at the state of mind of the characters, creatively weaving these increasingly unsettling images into the narrative.
William and Emily are forced into a situation where they alternate between trust and intense mistrust. Both Blakely and Raven manage their roles well, especially when they are called upon to produce a lot of tension within a short space of time. With the other elements all competing for attention, the performances still have to provide a base for the other, more abstract elements to be successful. Each new piece of information forces you to look at previous actions differently, leading you into a cyclical viewing experience. Their initial interactions seem slightly stilted, but this soon plays into both the characters and also the wider sense of the film being rather more surreal and unnatural, despite the very natural location. That sense of being unable to hide is at the film’s heart, forcing confrontation to the fore.
The film is beautiful, leaning into the enclosed setting of the wooded area, isolating the characters from the outside world and really adding a lot to the nightmarish feel. The trees looming over and the separation from the ‘normal’ world allows for the characters to become unmoored rather more quickly as all the competing tensions soon add up. For those looking for a straightforward experience, this is likely to frustrate and even with my enjoyment of it, the film doesn’t quite satisfy, lacking a little power in some sections.
This is also a very difficult film to review, as the central discovery is best kept a mystery until watching the film itself. Emily’s reaction to her discovery is one of panic and disgust, but her situation forces her to engage further. Blakely’s performance, veering from forcefulness to terror does much to wrongfoot the viewer at every turn.
Woodland Grey is an ambitious horror that uses everything at its disposal to create a mood-heavy film that indulges in both emotional and physical horror.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Woodland Grey plays as part of Grimmfest Easter on Friday April 15th at 8.20pm. Please see the Grimmfest schedule for more information and tickets.