Boy I’ve been lucky with films lately. First a fantastic weekend at FrightFest, and now another new favourite.
Sometimes when you see a synopsis on paper, it sounds right up your alley, but doesn’t follow through when you get to watching the movie itself.
I had been meaning to watch The Woods for a few months now. It was originally on my schedule for May…but you know, better late than never? (This must be my new motto.) This Lucky McKee-directed film has many things I love: witches, boarding schools, a period setting, and Bruce Campbell. Little did I know this had all the Down a Dark Hall vibes I was hoping for.
In 1965, teenage delinquent Heather is sent to Falburn Academy by her parents. She’s offered financial aid after passing one of the “tests” that the headmistress, Ms Traverse, sets her. She’s allowed in, but under the condition that she must take extra lessons with Ms Traverse.
Heather immediately butt heads with resident mean girl Samantha. The girl constantly knocks over Heather’s milk or throws the milk at other students to taunt her. But Heather has a thick skin (clearly a contemporary attitude), and often fights back to her bully.
Despite being intimidating, Heather makes friends with the quiet and talents Marcy. She begins to settle in, though is wary of the school. She begins to dream of bloody girls running through the woods and a girl with an ax. She also sees ghostly visions in the woods while trying to run away one night. Though when she hears the legend of witches and murder at Falburn Academy, her dreams begin to seem more real.
Things begin to get stranger as she has her one-on-one meetings with Ms Traverse. It becomes clear that Heather has powers of some sort, a magic. Then a student, who had supposedly tried to kill herself, returns to the school. Ann is meek, and barely speaks to any of the other students.
But one night, Ann disappears from her bed, only to be replaced by a pile of Ann-shaped leaves. It becomes apparent that Marcy is the next target, followed by Heather herself.
After Marcy also disappears in a fashion similar to Ann, Samantha confronts Heather again. Only this time, she reveals she’s been protecting Heather all along. Protecting her from The Milk (capitalisation necessary). She also tells Heather she she called Heather’s parents to pick her up. Samantha’s body is found shortly after.
When Heather’s parents retrieve her, she’s seemingly safe. Only the family are in a strange car accident on their way home. Heather and her father are the only two to survive.
Heather is returned to Falburn Academy after a short recovery. And it’s only then that the dark magic begin to come to a head.
And… It’s a slightly disappointing ending, and it’s a bit unclear what or why things are happening. But it’s often difficult to stick a landing when a movie is this good at building its suspense.
The writing for Heather’s character is a bit distracting, if only because it is so clearly written with a modern girl in mind. Also, and I hate to say it, the addition of Campbell was also distracting. We didn’t really need his character, especially when Heather was written to be such a resourceful girl.
That being said, I adored The Woods. It’s loose on its mythology, sure, but that (for me) adds all the more mystery. It’s a terribly atmospheric movie, full of autumn leaves and beautiful shots (my fave). There are subtleties in the set design and costuming that I was rather fond of as well. Deliveries from the likes of Rachel Nichols and the great Patricia Clarkson help also sell the movie.
I always find it more difficult to discuss exactly why I like something. I really, really like The Woods, even for its faults. I’m surprised there aren’t more of us gushing about it. Perhaps it isn’t for everyone, but this was sure as hell a good one for me.