A Night in the Woods is a low-budget, found footage horror very much in the style of The Blair Witch Project. The review could end there really, as now you pretty much know what you’re going to get, and if the comparison to The Blair Witch Project seems a little lazy and obvious then lazy and obvious it is because this film does use the 1999 genre-defining film as a template with very little expansion.
Heading out for a weekend of camping in Dartmoor’s Wistman’s Woods, American Brody (Scoot McNairy), his girlfriend Kerry (Anna Skellern) and her cousin Leo (Andrew Hawley) stop at a nearby pub where they are told tales of hangings, devil worshipping and general local folklore to set them off on their journey. Once on the Moors tensions start to rise between the three as Brody’s jealous streak, his obsession with filming everything and Kerry and Leo’s slightly odd chemistry all give way to paranoia and ill-feeling. But is it just heightened paranoid tension or is something else at play out in the ancient woods?
So. three young people out camping in isolated woods and weird things happen – ring any bells? To be fair, A Night in the Woods does have a little more going for it in terms of actually having something happening in it, although the end results are still far from satisfactory. The other thing going for it is how far hand-held camera technology has come in the last thirteen years as the actual image on the screen looks pretty good and is very clear, even during the bits where the camera is flickering or being moved around.
However, regardless of how a film looks it’s the script and characters that count and this film doesn’t do too well on either count. The best of the three main leads is Sirens star Anna Skellern as Kerry, whose morals may be a little questionable but it is her plight that we as an audience are supposed to identify with and as such Skellern’s delivery is believable. The characters of Brody and Leo are less sympathetic and both McNairy and Hawley portray them as such, although that may be more due to the lacklustre script rather than anybody’s performance.
Lacklustre because, much like Blair Witch, things are said in the opening 15-20 minutes of the film that are obviously meant to pay off later on, but unlike Blair Witch they never do. Warnings from the locals about satanists roaming the woods, restless spirits and the like should all lead to a chilling climax that never comes, which is a shame after the film spent so long establishing and building something up.
Overall A Night in the Woods does what it sets out to do by creating some unease and tension but without ever going to the next level of actually having a decent reveal or a satisfying ending. It is well made and director Richard Parry obviously has a love for this sort of thing but it just feels incomplete and a little disjointed once the inevitable night vision chase scenes start. Had this come out in the 90s instead of The Blair Witch Project then it would no doubt have been the flavour-of-the-month and found an audience like that film did, but coming out now with thirteen years of other found footage films doing a much better job of it this film just comes across as dull and uninspiring.