After the North American premiere presentation at Fantasia, director Lucky McKee recounted how they had announced they were making a movie called “The Woods” in 2003, then M. Night Shyamalan announced he was also making a film with that title, so they had to tell him he couldn’t do that and he had to change it to The Village. “And what a great movie that was,” quipped McKee sarcastically. I personally think Shyamalan’s pic is better than McKee’s, but the latter is more deserving of the title. The woods indeed.
1965. Heather (Agnes Bruckner), a young redhead who has been having problems with her grades, her mom and her habit of starting fires (!), is being driven by her parents to Falburn Academy, a mysterious all-girls boarding school in the middle of a forest. Heather doesn’t feel too comfortable around the ultra strict and bizarre professors, and her classmates seem pretty weird themselves. She does get along with this chick Marcy (Lauren Birkell), but their friendship is soured by bitchy babe Samantha (Rachel Nichols), who mockingly calls them lesbians. “Are your pubes red too? Wait, there’s only one way to be sure: Marcie? Is she a firecrotch?”
Right there, if you’re familiar with the Shitfaced Brandon Davis Firecrotch Diatribe at least, you’re probably having flashes of Lindsay Lohan. Oddly enough, “The Woods” often recalls the lohansterpiece Mean Girls, with its redheaded new girl protagonist clashing with the school’s Queen Bee, except that the catfights get much bloodier! I also found myself alternately thinking of The Faculty (with its creepy teaching staff), The Evil Dead (with its tree branches coming alive and Bruce Campbell in a supporting role) and even X-Men (with its School for Gifted Youngsters). Plus McKee himself acknowledges the influence of Argento’s “Suspiria”, the music of Nirvana, various paintings and sculptures… Needless to say that this hodgepodge is not as singular as May, but it’s still a solid flick.
I don’t want to get into the plot too much, but it involves witches, suicide attempts and the girls hearing ominous voices and having visions of brutal axe murders. Thematically, the story seems to be about the power of the feminine, for good or for evil. Beside Heather’s dad (Campbell) and a cop or a doctor here and there, this is an entirely female world, lorded over by the headmistress played by the always superb Patricia Clarkson. I’m not sure what point screenwriter David Ross is trying to make, but trying to figure that out is part of the fun of the film. Then there’s McKee’s naughty sense of humor, the brilliant shot composition and of course, the gore – and I’m not just talking about Lesley Gore pop songs, though we do get to hear 2-3 of those.
“The Woods” has yet to be released due to, in McKee’s words, “corporate bullshit”, but it deserves to be widely seen. I’m not a big fan of horror movies, and I wish this one didn’t occasionally indulge in cheap scare tricks, but for the most part this is definitely a superior genre entry.