Review: Devil in the Woods / Cert: 15 / Director: Darren Lynn Bousman / Screenplay: Darren Lynn Bousman / Starring: Stephen Moyer, Mia Kirshner, Allie Macdonald, Shawn Ashmore / Release Date: Out Now
Darren Lynn Bousman follows up the queasy thrills of his 2010 remake of Mother’s Day and his icky entries into the Saw franchise with a much more dialled-down and subtle effort which benefits enormously from its direct-to-DVD/reduced budget status. With the need to aim for the multiplex jugular removed, Bousman has created a more intriguing movie which covers territory admittedly over-familiar to horror genre aficionados but which also manages to offer a welcome and unexpected ambiguity to its ostensibly mundane narrative.
Richard Vineyard (True Blood’s Moyer - the movie's biggest surprise is hearing him speak in his natural British accent rather than his Bon Temps drawl) tries to bring peace to a fractured family dynamic which sees his new wife, son, and stepdaughter at odds with one another. He takes them to the remote Pine Barrens where he vacationed with his father as a child but a campfire story about the legendary local beast known as the Jersey Devil awakens memories of his own traumatic childhood. Before long Richard’s shaky grip on sanity turns into paranoia as he suspects his new wife is being unfaithful and that something monstrous and blood-crazed is lurking in the woods. But is the Jersey Devil really out there slaughtering unsuspecting campers or is the killer someone closer to home?
Devil in the Woods (US title The Barrens, fact fans) wears its influences in plain sight, marrying the conventions of the ‘monster in the woods’ horror movie with a bit of Blair Witch bravado and just a dash of the stark raving mad psychopathic stalker thriller thrown in for a bit of colour. Moyer’s good value as the deranged Vineyard, his transformation from eager-to-please family man to potentially murderous lunatic played with just the right amount of scenery-chewing mugging, and his attacks on his own family evoke a similar gut-churn reaction to some of the more extreme nastiness of the director’s own earlier, higher profile genre work. There’s a charming Blake’s 7 shonkiness to some of the movie’s ambitious practical effects (alongside some cut-price CGI) but the script never betrays its core conceit that sometimes the very worst monsters are those which our own sometimes fragile minds create from their own special darkness. There are some pacing issues and moments when the production could clearly have done with a few more dollars but, for a movie shot in just eighteen days, Devil in the Woods is an assured and curiously haunting effort from a director whose career is clearly still a work-in-progress.