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Saturday, August 31, 2019

Review: Witches in the Woods

Director: Jordan Barker
Screenplay: Christopher Borrelli
Year: 2019

Synopsis: A group of young friends goes on a road trip to the mountains of Massachusetts looking for a weekend to ski and relax. On their way, they decide to take a shortcut that leads them to get lost in a forest believed to have been inhabited by witches in the past. Without much chances of getting out of there, the low temperatures are but one of the dangers they will face.

Witches and forests complement each other like rings and fingers and are an effective combination in horror films. Movies such as “The Blair Witch Project” and “The Witch”, just to name some, are examples of this. Forests in these types of movies are used as a mysterious place, far from civilization and everything that is normal, making the protagonists vulnerable in these conditions, and witches are just plain evil. 

In “Witches in the Woods” a group of university students goes on a road trip to a forest in the mountains. On their way there they take an alternate route ignoring a no trespassing sign that leads them to get lost and stranded in this place, known for being in the past a place where witches lived. While the temperature starts going down to dangerous levels, the tension in the group starts increasing at the same time as one of the young ladies starts behaving strangely.

“Witches in the Woods” brings us the typical group of teenagers looking for an adventure without thinking of the consequences of their actions. The group is lead by Jill, interpreted by Hannah Kasulka (“The Exorcist” TV series), who is a passionate environmentalist, who takes care of her friend Allison (Sasha Clements; “Majority Rules!”), vulnerable after being victim of an unknown harassment, and in the middle of a love triangle with two of the riders in the car. The rest of the group is composed of two partying brothers and the girlfriend of one of them, who is the new girl in the group that nobody likes and who always has the wrong word in the mouth.

The stereotypical characters are useful for delving deep in the story faster without having to give too much backstory for them; we see these characters in lots of movies and we know how they act. Beyond the lack of originality for the characters, the work of the generally unknown cast is decent, to say the least. Each character is represented correctly and invites the viewer to create its own conclusions about their personalities without needing to be explicit about it. This turns out to be important when conditions go against then and the true nature of each is revealed.

One of the benefits of filming a movie in a forest in the middle of winter is the frightful atmosphere it produces. The director Jordan Barker (“Torment”) makes the most out of this element and is its best ally for creating tension and this is something this movie excels at. The ambient is always uncomfortable and slowly more elements are added that complicate the survival of the group: dangerously low temperatures and the possibility of bears, witches, and possessions keep the tension high. Just the idea of being stranded in a remote location with the possibility of dying frozen is enough to create an unnerving story, as Adam Green did in the great “Frozen”.

Without brimming originality, the story gets to be interesting and enjoyable. Its worst problem is being predictable and abusing of horror clichés, taking some effectiveness from it, especially in its best jump scare. Christopher Borrelli (“The Vatican Tapes”) crafts a screenplay that is smart and well developed, not exempt from gaps, but in general moves the story in a coherent way. The predictable ending is left open for interpretation, accurate, but that can be a double-edged weapon for fans that will prefer closure.

“Witches in the Woods” is a typical movie of teenagers in a dangerous situation by not assessing the consequences of their actions. The movie is very atmospheric and does a great job with the gore scenes. Its biggest flaw is the lack of originality in the plot and its development, which can be a problem for the more demanding fans. If you can overcome this, it’s an entertaining movie with some great moments.

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