One of the easiest places to shoot an independent movie is out in the woods. You don't have to worry too much about lighting when you shoot during the day, the locations are generally free, and there can be a lot of variety if you look for it. That being said, this also means that there are hundreds of low budget horror movies that are filmed in the woods so the ratio of good to bad is quite low. When I received this screener, I was put off by the cover which looks a bit like a cheap porno with a seemingly ridiculous tagline but I went ahead and hoped for the best.
Katy Houska stars as Pretty, one of a group of four people who go on a camping trip. During the first night, two of the campers disappear and Pretty and her boyfriend Jack (Babak Tafti) begin to search for them. After a bit of walking around in the wilderness, they meet a dude named Buck (Kevin R. Elder) who identifies himself as law enforcement. As he is bald and has some slight backwoods mannerisms, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know he is bad news. Soon, Pretty and Jack are separated and Pretty is left to wander the woods looking for an escape. Meanwhile, we are introduced to the token redneck family complete with a white trash mother figure and a comic relief weirdo. These characters do not have the charisma of Buck and the weirdo seems like he is trying to emulate a young, druggie Brad Dourif. By the end of the movie, Pretty goes through a transformation into an ass-kicker in one of the more daring performances I have seen by an actress in an indie flick. Houska has that kind of bravery that is similar to Emily Haack (without nudity) and is not shy when doing what a director asks her to do.
The first half hour of this movie plays like a fairly standard backwoods slasher flick and it is a little annoying with a number of flashbacks and dream sequences. I found the movie got considerably better when the focus shifts to Pretty and what she is going through without sidetracking to other characters. In particular there is a scene where she is exploring an empty house that totally captured my attention as the camerawork is interesting as is the editing. Something about the way that a few jump cuts and POV shots are incorporated into this sequence brought me right back into the movie. As I mentioned earlier, Houska's performance is quite amazing as she takes a character through a complete transformation and you buy into it. One last point is the score which has a lot of acoustic songs which sometimes work and sometimes don't but it is nice to see the attempt being made to try something a little against the grain.
One thing that a lot of indies do wrong is try too hard to be different. This can be quite damaging when it interferes with the story as it takes away from the entertainment that a horror movie can provide. Although director Aaron Hendren does tread a little bit into this territory with a creepy female clown and a scene where Jack eats a fairy, these indulgences do not detract from the story. They are somewhat nonsensical and do little to drive the plot forward but they are kind of fun to look at. I can't finish this review without mentioning the closing credits, which made me like the movie even more. It is an upbeat riff of an idea seen in P.T. Anderson's Magnolia that I'm sure many other indie filmmakers wish they thought of first. I look forward to seeing more from Hendren as he has proven he has the ability to make a tired sub-genre interesting. I am curious as to what he will take on next and hope he continues to try new things to find out what works best for his movies. (Josh Pasnak, 2/28/10)
Directed By: Aaron Hendren.
Written By: Aaron Hendren.
Starring: Katy Houska, Babak Tafti, Kevin R. Elder, Alex Knight.
Egg Murder Productions - January 29, 2010
Picture Ratio: 1.66:1 Widescreen.
Picture Quality: The picture looks great for a low budget movie.
Extras: First up, we get a director's commentary from Hendren. This is a good track with lots of information about the making of the movie and the tight bond that indie casts and crews have with one another. Next, we get about 8-minutes of outtakes that are quite funny. Finally, we get text cast and crew bios.
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