Italian thriller In fondo al bosco (Deep in the Wood) opens during the annual Krampus festival in the Fassa Valley in the Dolomites; a time when adults dress up in costume honouring the “half-goat, half-demon” creature of ancient European folklore and cavort through the woods. Bored and frightened by the proceedings, four-year-old Tommi Consi cannot persuade his father, too preoccupied with drinking, to take him home. With no-one looking after him, Tommi runs off into the forest, and disappears. Five years later, after a young boy is found sleeping rough on a building site, police DNA tests prove that the missing Tommi has been found. Yet the lost child’s safe return is far from a triumphant homecoming, and questions are soon being asked about the true identity of this disturbed youngster.
The boy’s disappearance had led to the disintegration of his parents’ already-fragile marriage. They are both flawed individuals, and have created a far from perfect family home. Their looming separation had been put on hold when Tommi vanished. Tommi’s father Manuel, who was arrested and charged during the investigation, is beset with guilt and a sense of impotence, while the child’s mother Linda is emotionally shut-down and numb, having survived a suicide attempt. Before Tommi’s return, the pair have become locked into a dysfunctional state of co-dependency from which neither can escape. Nigro (Manuel) and Filippi (Linda) are both excellent in their roles as the broken and bereft husband and wife, particularly as they experience the wrenching emotional turmoil of trying to socialise their sociopathic and hostile son. Their dilemmas are made worse as family, friends and neighbours all begin to question who Tommi really is, and as secrets and deceits hidden for five years are revealed with shattering consequences for all concerned.
The cinematography of Deep in the Wood makes good use of the impressive Dolomites landscape to give a palpable sense of place, and the framing of the story emphasises the isolation and insularity of the small and conflicted community of which the Consis are a part. More could have been made of the bizarre (and frankly unsettling) Krampus festival. The sight of nightmarish oversized animals crashing through the night-time woods carrying flaming torches is a gift to any film director looking for a strong opening sequence. The film’s folklore context could have been established more convincingly had such sights been better used. But together with the haunting choral tones of an understated soundtrack, the movie’s visuals effectively evoke the kind of atmospheric and slightly out-of-kilter tone that this sort of psychological storytelling requires.
As buried truths come to the surface, director Lodovichi confidently steers the story through some of the blunter contrivances in the plot – in particular, some of the hinted-at explanations for Tommi’s bad behaviour. Lodovichi also does not oversell the script’s deliberate attempts at misdirection, even as events spiral towards a tense (if stretched) finale. The on-screen statistics which appear ahead of the closing credits imply that this might be a movie with something to say about the global phenomenon of child disappearance. It isn’t. But Deep in the Woods is an emotionally literate exploration of the impact of the loss of a child on one set of struggling parents who barely survive such a personal tragedy. It also a film that suggests that it is not only the fabled creatures lurking in the woods that are capable of acting like monsters.
DEEP IN THE WOOD / CERT: TBC / WRITERS: ISABELLA AGUILAR, STEFANO LODOVICHI, DAVIDE ORSINI / DIRECTOR: STEFANO LODOVICHI / CAST: FILIPPO NIGRO, CAMILLA FILIPPI, GIOVANNI VETTORAZZO, TEO ACHILLE CAPRIO, STEFANO PIETRO DETASSIS / UK RELEASE: TBC