How many more modern horror films can possibly begin with a bloodied victim frantically fleeing through the woods in the pre-credits sequence, ultimately coming a cropper and getting killed by an offscreen assailant?
How many contemporary offerings then go on to introduce a group of young adults travelling obliviously through said woods in a van who proceed to bicker among each other, leading to them accidentally mowing down an object that runs into the road?
Hello, DEAD WOOD. A new British horror film that begins with such familiar content. In this case they plough down a deer in the opening moments.
The concerned party consists of Jess (Rebecca Craven), Webb (Fergus March), Larri (Emily Juniper) and Milk (John Samuel Worsey). They're city types who are retreating to the country for a weekend break.
Embarking on foot into the woods, their disrespect for the countryside extends from callously discarding the deer carcass, to neglecting to report an abandoned car and stealing eggs from a bird's nest.
When they come across the abandoned tent of the opening victim they contemplate reporting it to the authorities, but have no signal on their mobile phones (cripes!). So they get cosy beside a campfire as the sun sets and set up their two tents, engaging in an evening of drinking, smoking pot and bad songs on an acoustic guitar. Someone kill them quick!
The evening ends with Larri and Webb fucking in their tent, only to be disturbed by a scream from outside. When they determine that it wasn't Nick Frost-alike Milk playing pranks, the group panic ... but not enough to leave. They simply jump into the same tent for the remainder of the night.
The following morning, Webb and Larri discover frightened Asian girl Ketsy (Nina Kwok) lighting a fire. They welcome her into their group and listen to how she was camping with her missing beau Rob (David Bryant), and won't leave until she's found him. The boys offer to help her in her search, but Larri and Jess decide Ketsy is a little odd.
Well, she certainly seems to have captured Webb's attention during a lake swim - much to Larri's umbrage. She contents herself with reading the novel of 'Jaws' while her fella and the new girl flirt before her in the water.
Meanwhile, Milk and Jess become an item during a stroll in the woods. But priorities for everyone soon change for everyone when Webb goes missing and Jess spies a voyeur in the woods ...
DEAD WOOD begins in a decidedly uninspired fashion, treading overly familiar ground and cursing itself further with clumsy acting.
However, as it evolves, the performances warm and the script manipulates itself into something with a definite hook. The predictable soon takes a turn away from the norm and, if you give it a chance beyond the halfway mark, you'll be quietly compelled to see how it all pans out.
Performances are admittedly studentish and the dialogue is, at times, terrible. But the photography and editing are attractive, while the three-headed writing/production/directing of David Bryant, Sebastian Smith and Richard Stiles is far more consistent than you'd imagine it to be.
The film looks good and has a decent pace to it throughout, but it scores low in terms of originality and all too often resorts to stock modern horror formula (forgettable rock songs on the score; shouty arguments between the protagonists; the aforementioned clichéd set-ups).
Although technically proficient, it's difficult to recommend because it is quickly forgettable. I must commend it though for straying off the beaten path a tad in it's second half, and at least attempting a homegrown nightmare on a micro budget. It must be mentioned too that a couple of later scenes do evoke genuine atmosphere - kudos to the filmmakers for making an initially shaky proposal workable.
The film is presented uncut in a nice 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, with bold colours and decent detail. Some of the darker scenes suffer from lack of definition, but it's not a major complaint.
The English 2.0 audio is very good indeed (exceedingly clear and well-balanced).
A static main menu includes access to a static scene-selection menu with 8 chapters.
The only extra is a 90-second trailer in anamorphic 2.35:1.
DEAD WOOD isn't original or remarkable. It's downright poor in places. But it redeems itself overall thanks to an unexpected second half, and some extremely attractive cinematography. Not to mention, a heart that shines through more apparently as the script progresses.
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Dnc Entertainment|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|