The Woods

Year 2006

Agnes Bruckner as  Heather Fasulo
Patricia Clarkson   as Ms. Traverse
Bruce Campbell as Joe Fasulo
Emma Campbell as Alice Fasulo   
Lauren Birkell as Marcy Turner   
Director - Lucky McKee
Screenwriter - David Ross

A scary movie? Really? Yeah. This is the little movie that could.

This movie won't get any points for an original menace. Even the girls' school setting is a bit mundane. But, like all things, it's not what you say it's how you say it. In this case, it's also how you edit it.

The movie setting is creepy enough. An isolated building in the middle of a forest where the headmistress, Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson), is in complete control. As for the building, it's a New England turn of the century, 19th century that is, affair complete with wood everywhere.

Although this is a nice touch considering the title of the movie, the dormitory took me back to my college days in Maine. I remember that some nights, when we were bored out of our minds, we'd try and find a straight line somewhere in the building. We couldn't. Wood warps and twists, just as it did to the building in this movie.

The movie dormitory is a common room, with high recessed windows that I can only imagine existing in a New England basement. This unusual common room is another touch that helps to make this film unique.

As for the headmistress, Ms. Traverse is no ugly scabrous witch, she's an attractive apparently reasonable sadist. This makes her dangerous because she can fool anyone into thinking that she is always the innocent party. It adds to the tension because Heather Fasulo (Agnes Bruckner) is a sympathetic character and you know that she will lose every battle she fights against the wicked Ms. Traverse.

I know it's going too far to compare Ms. Traverse to Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but I couldn't help thinking that the two were cut from the same cloth. By the end of The Woods, I hated Ms. Traverse.

There are some shocking moments in the film. The first time that Heather went through the woods gave me chills. The singing of Marcy Turner (Lauren Birkell) was a nice, creepy touch. The return of the attempted suicide to the place that drove her to the attempt was suspenseful.

And this last part is why the movie works. It's not the shocks or the gore that get to you. It's the building of tension that does the trick. Like the paranoia films of years ago, all you can see is Heather's plans thwarted at every turn. Since Heather has no franchise history and there's no plot reason to keep her alive, her future is always in doubt. You can't become blasť about her survival.

Heather tries to gain the help of her mother, and is stymied. Heather tries to get the girls to fight back, and they are too fearful. Heather enlists the local police and they are rendered impotent by the evil of the woods. Heather's father (Bruce Campbell) comes to rescue her, and is reduced to helplessness.

Is it a breakthrough film? Not really. Is it a combination of suspense, shocks, and scares? Yes. Does it make you jump? Yes, a couple of times. Does it make you squeamish without resorting to torture? Yes.

Oh, there are a couple of scenes where you grind your teeth a bit because pain is being inflicted but there is no physical torture in the movie. There's just mental anguish.

There is one aspect to the film that I found a little sophomoric. Heather receives the nickname "Firecrotch" because of her red hair. That makes the movie a bit embarrassing to watch with a female even though there's no nudity and no sex.

Another plus is a relatively subdued Bruce Campbell.

I'm a big Bruce Campbell fan, but the man cannot act! In this movie, watching Bruce Campbell be a non-hammy Bruce Campbell fit nicely with the story and restored my faith in being able to enjoy movies with him in them.

In the end, The Woods is a mostly successful attempt at a scary movie. It's a cut above slasher (sorry, couldn't resist) and zombie films. Check it out in a dark room. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

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