October 3, 2006
Agnes Bruckner as Heather Fasulo
Patricia Clarkson as Ms. Traverse
Marcia Bennett as Ms. Mackinaw
Rachel Nichols as Samantha Wise
Bruce Campbell as Joe Fasulo
Lucky McKee’s been turning out treasures for years. The fact McKee managed to maintain a fairly low-profile up until the release of The Woman is mind boggling. This is a director with an understanding of storytelling, not just the technical aspects of film production. McKee gets the big picture, and that’s been proven time and again. Check out The Woman if you have your doubts, or head back a few years and check out some other gems like May, Masters of Horror installment Sick Girl and this beauty right here: The Woods.
The Woods has gone largely unnoticed by many. That may be due to lack of promotion and a straight-to-DVD release, but it’s an issue and every horror freak out there who’s let this one slide by without reaching, should reevaluate their stance on the picture. Or, at the least, take a little time to familiarize yourselves. If you had no idea the film even existed, that’s understandable. But now that you’ve been made aware, it’s essential that you give the picture a chance.
The attractive Agnes Bruckner fronts the film, which sees her character Heather Fasulo dropped off at a girls’ school after causing a little trouble for her mother (who happens to be a complete bitch who seems to have forgotten what it’s like to be young). Unfortunately for all parties involved, this is no ordinary school, and the headmistress has some dark secrets tucked away.
The woods surrounding the facility are haunted by the spirits of a trio of whacked out witches. While they seem to keep to the foliage primarily, their evil ways have quite obviously seeped into the school. Children are going missing, every authority figure in sight responds in awkward fashion and the girls seem to be a little… vacant, upstairs. And we’re not talking about just a few girls, we’re talking about virtually every single student in attendance. Something is obviously horribly wrong at this secluded academy, but can the still fresh-minded Heather Fasulo solve the mystery, or will she end up just as many others have: missing, vanished in the night never to be seen again?
John R. Leonetti serves as the film’s director of photography and between his affinity for low-lighting and eerie camera angles and McKee’s fluid vision, the picture comes together beautifully. Visually The Woods is an outright success story. The story takes place in 1965, and McKee stays true to the time period. Interior and exterior shots capture a vintage essence and Hélène Bélanger, who handles the wardrobe department hits a home-run with her faithfulness to yesteryear. Toss a black and white filter on the film, forget any of the featured faces are familiar and it’s easy to believe this one was actually shot nearly 50 years ago.
There are a few wonderfully creepy sequences here, and the cast deserves a major nod in manufacturing legitimately unnerving sequences. Patricia Clarkson, who tackles the role of the quizzical Ms. Traverse is mesmerizing. Her role in the turmoil is left murky for the bulk of the film, and her calculated delivery ensures her motives, be them positive or negative, remain unknown until the final act launches. Marcia Bennett (Ms. Mackinaw) is the kind of woman who invades sleep, only to uncork a vicious dosage of the nightmarish. Seriously, she’s as chilling as they come. Bruce Campbell appears in the film, and he brings his trademark over-the-top style to a few fun scenes while reeling it in during other taut moments. Toss these winners in a pot with Bruckner, who’s a great, believably lead, and you’ve got yourself a memorable cast that likely surpassed McKee’s own expectations.
The Woods is effectively frightening. The flick is polished in all areas (even the CGI looks rather impressive), and resonates long beyond viewing time. While witches sit at the heart of the story, The Woods feels an awful lot like a throwback nod to some of cinema’s finest ghost stories. If you’re looking to turn a Saturday night into a chill-filled event, grab The Woods along with The Devil’s Backbone and enjoy one damn disconcerting double feature. These are completely different pictures, but they compliment one another rather well.