DVD REVIEW: THE HAUNTING OF BLACK WOOD / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JACK HELLER / SCREENPLAY: SHAWN CHRISTENSEN, JASON DOLAN / STARRING: SCOTT EASTWOOD, KATHERINE WATERSTON, SARA PAXTON / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 2ND 2015
Known on its 2012 American DVD debut as Enter Nowhere, it’s a mystery as to why The Haunting of Black Wood has taken three years and a name change to make it across the Atlantic. An advertising campaign attempting to sell the movie as a descendant of The Evil Dead, when in reality it is anything but, can’t be helping. People expecting jump scares and supernatural horror will be sorely disappointed. Anyone inclined towards something a little more cerebral will be more than pleasantly surprised, however; this is much closer to The Butterfly Effect than it is The Cabin in the Woods.
The premise, three complete strangers (all young and relatively attractive) arriving at a tiny, sparse cabin in a wintry forest, is of course all the excuse Metrodome needed to advertise Jack Heller’s low budget production as a spooky successor to any number of teens-in-danger backwoods shockers. Within twenty minutes, most viewers will be thinking The Sixth Sense. But Heller has made a virtue of the lack of cash and crafted a film that owes more in its visual aesthetic, as well as its low-key tone, to Keith Gordon’s 1992 film A Midnight Clear – and by the end of The Haunting of Black Wood there are other reasons for the allusion too. To reveal anything more about the plot would be to spoil it, suffice it to say that any expectations engendered as the story progresses are roundly subverted by the final third, while the clues strewn abundantly throughout the first two acts as often as not work as red herrings in terms of the film’s ultimate destination. This isn’t a horror movie so much as a clever metaphysical fantasy thriller, albeit one that walks a very fine line between success and selling its audience short.
Because in order to tell a story of this sort, you need to keep a great deal of information not just out of the audience’s sight, but outside the characters’ awareness too. Heller and the scriptwriters make a decent fist of this, but the more the clues pile up, the odder some of the spartan conversations feel. It helps, when watching, either to disengage the brain somewhat, or at the very least to have a decently sized capacity for suspension of disbelief.
Those who do manage to maintain their credulity will be amply rewarded though, because even if the logic of the plot doesn’t quite marry up, the solution makes a great deal more sense than anticipated. The film’s rewatch value might be limited – the clues are just a little too obvious in retrospect to repay further visits – but as a renter, The Haunting of Black Wood will certainly reward an evening’s viewing.