Friday, September 25, 2015

THE WOODS (2006) (Olive Films Blu-ray Review)

THE WOODS (2006) 
Label: Olive Films 
Region Code: A
Rated: R
Duratione: 91 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround 
Video: 1080p HD Widesreen (2.35:1)
Director: Lucky Mckee
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Patricia Clarkson, Emma Campbell, Agnes Bruckner, Lauren Birkell

Set in 1965 Lucky McKee's The Woods follows a troubled pyromaniac young woman named Heather Fasulo (Agnes Bruckner) who is sent away to an all-girl school, the Falburn Academy, which is nestled away in deep in the woods of New England. She's sent their by her cold-fish mother Alice (Emma Campbell) and put-upon father Joe (Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead) who are at their rope's end with her teenage rebellion, it seems that the boarding school was the idea of her mother, who is embarrassed by her rebellious teen daughter's behavior. 

She is greeted by the dean of the school, Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson, Six Feet Under) who take an unsettling interest in the young woman right away, going so far as to offer a scholarship to the cash-poor family, she's always talking about how "special" and "different" Heather is. As she settles into life at the school Heather befriends misfit Marcy Turner (Lauren Birkell) and makes an instant enemy of school bully Samantha Wise (Rachel Nichols), all these ladies are quite adorable in their schoolgirl uniforms. One night Heather is told of the local urban legend about the academy, that one hundred years ago three young girls emerged from the woods, they turned out to be witches who killed the teachers and disappeared again into the woods, where they are said to inhabit to this day, and thus we have the mythology behind this witchy supernatural entry. 

Heather is plagued by nightmares which feed into the strange disappearance of some of the student at the academy, which the staff attribute to the teens having run away from school, but strange things are certainly happening at the school, leading Heather to suspect that the school might be lead by coven of witches, an idea which becomes more and more clear as the movie moves forward, Heather is put through a series of tests which seem designed to trigger a latent supernatural power within her, which the witchy women of the academy are hoping to harness to their own benefit somehow, but they should have had the foresight to see that bringing a pyromaniac into the fold in a woodland area might not work out so well in their favor. 

The woods (2006) was the follow-up to McKee's break through debut May (2002), this was a studio film with a decent budget that for some ungodly reason was shelved for far too-long and tinkered with by the studio before being dumped onto DVD a few years later, but the movie is still quite a treat. McKee does a great job with the higher-budget afforded the film loading it with creepy visuals and loads of atmosphere. the woods which surround the school are dark and foreboding, the trees have a life of their own and indeed carry out the wishes of the witches who want Heather, there's some digital effects work by way of vibes that threaten to snatch away a few of our characters, and for 2006 they don't seem too awful either. 

The Woods gets a lot of comparison's to the Dario Argento classic Suspiria (1977), and not without good reason either, there are some familiar notes that definitely recall Argento's masterwork. For starters we have an all-girl boarding school, a few sinister teachers, witchy supernatural elements and a creepy score with strong whispering vocal elements, but that's about it. I wouldn't say that the story is original but it is pretty damn good, a bit of a slow burn but well paced and eerie through and through, helped immensely by the slow-moving camera of cinematographer John R. Leonetti with loads of skewed camera angles, ratcheting up the tension at every turn without resorting to fast-cutting action.  

Heather Agnes Bruckner (Blood and Chocolate) is damn good in the role of the rebellious 60's teen through witch we experience the movie, craving her cold mother's love and spurring the staff at the academy, drawn to other social misfits at the school, and I love the feud between her and the blond bitch played by Rachel Nichols, a character who could be one-note but actually goes a little deeper here, I enjoyed the writing and the performances. Patricia Clarkson as the Dean of students is brilliant as always, very underplayed but with a certain witchy menace about her, likewise we have the twitchy Ms. Mackinaw (Marcia Bennet, The Woman) and the stern Ms. Leland (Catherine Colvey) as teachers at the school, both quite good, and damn scary. Bruce Campbell appears in a serious supporting role as Heather's father, turning in a solid performance, there's a scene of him with Clarkson in the hospital which is pretty effective as the head witch poisons him with a black liquid seeping from her torn open palm, some good disgusting stuff.The movie doesn't score much in the gore department but there's some, a tiny bit of axe killing during a flashback scene but what the film does well is suck you into the story with the strong performances and atmospheric storytelling, set in a creepy woodland setting, which gives the sixties-set movie a Gothic charm.. 

Audio/Video: Praise be to Olive Films for bringing us Lucky McKee's THE WOODS in 1080p at long last! The movie is presented in the original scope aspect ratio, the image is crisp and nicely detailed, the autumnal colors look great. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Sound audio presentation is also crisp and strong, the surrounds get some nice use with discreet effects and the haunting John Frizzell score coming through the surrounds, and that 60's soundtrack of Lesley Gore songs is brilliant. Unfortunately this is a bare bones disc, I had been hoping that the long-lost Lucky McKee commentary that Sony seemed to have trashed prior to the original DVD release might re surface, but this is sadly not the case. 

The Woods is a good watch, a witchy period movie loaded with atmosphere and mystery, it won't appeal to everyone but if you love a supernatural slow-burn this is a high recommend. Hoping we see a Blu-ray of McKee's May coming soon, that one is long overdue. 3/5