I need to have a little talk with the female Cellmates out there, particularly those of you who haven’t ventured outside of the city much. In addition to being entertaining, horror movies can also teach us survival skills. One of those lessons that is often ignored is “stay the hell out of the woods.” You don’t think they named a movie “Don’t Go In The Woods” just because it was a catchy title, do ya? Well, maybe they did, but the truth of the matter remains. Think back to every horror movie you’ve ever watched. Has going into the woods ever turned out well for anyone? Not often. You know who it works out for? Those who are familiar and comfortable with the woods. In other words, not city folks. You’re especially in trouble if you have sex in the woods. That’s a good way to end up raped, slaughtered, raped again, and eaten by some backwoods loon. The problem is, getting it on out in the forest is a big romantic fantasy for a lot of people. I want all of you ladies to have the opportunity to experience that, so I’ve decided to selflessly offer my services in your best interest. I’ve lived in the big city, but I was born in the mountains of North Carolina and spent my childhood in rural Georgia. I’m very familiar with the woods. I practically grew up in them. Horrible things can happen if you’re out there with the wrong guy, so wouldn’t you rather choose a man who knows what’s up in the underbrush? Now, I know that offer might seem self-serving at first glance but I assure you, ladies, my concern is solely for your personal well-being. I’m here to help because I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to any of you. So before you run off into the woods with city boy, think how much safer you’d be with SOC. Your life may just depend on it. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about Dead Woman’s Hollow.
Synopsis: “Along the Appalachian Trail, Jen (Mel Heflin) and Donna’s (Sarah Snyder) college project to find peace in a bruised and battered world runs into the true face of fear and evil… Leroy (Boodle Montgomery). The story of Dead Woman;s Hollow unfolds by following a murder investigation by Sheriff Hatsley (Charles Dawson). The crime reveals many layers to the quest of truth. The true horror being our ability to hate and the true fear of the killer in us all.”
The number one thing this movie has going for it is atmosphere. A lot of people who do backwoods/small-town horror play it as way too sensationalistic. That’s when things like some of the Wrong Turn sequels happen. Dead Woman’s Hollow has the good sense to keep things low key. I’m not sure where they shot it, but it had an authenticity that comes with small rural towns. It reminded me of a lot of places in the mountains of North Carolina. Speaking of the shooting locations, the outdoor photography is absolutely gorgeous. They definitely took full advantage of the picturesque terrain. Everything has that hazy fall pallor that I love.
Another factor that goes a long way towards the atmosphere is Sheriff Hatsley. I don’t know if it comes more from the way that John Taylor wrote the character or the performance of Charles Dawson (or both), but he comes across as very believable. Most movie “small town sheriffs” are shallow stereotypes; just obnoxious for no good reason. This one has some actual depth. He seems like he may have been a good guy at one point, but the middle of nowhere beat has ground him down to the point that he’s become a dick with a badge. It’s a well-drawn character that’s played very competently, making it a joy to watch.
Dawson’s is not the only performance that deserves high commendation. You know those huge rock mounds that sometimes surround railroad tracks? Well, the flick opens with Maura Housley stumbling out of the woods naked and climbing up one of those. Yes, she’s naked and barefoot crawling over rocks. Now THAT’S dedication to a role. Major kudos to her for being willing to go the extra mile. I have an amazing mental picture of her talking to her grandkids one day far in the future. One of them says something about how easy it is to make a movie now that CGI has taken over. Maura waves a wrinkly fist at the young whippersnappers and bellows “CGI? In my day we had to crawl naked over huge piles of jagged rocks in the freezing cold to make a movie!” The kids roll their eyes and say “Yeah right. Whatever, grandma.” She then hobbles to the shelf, pulls out a copy of this movie, brushes away the cobwebs, and proceeds to scar the ungrateful little bastards for life with scenes of granny’s naked, bloody ass crawling over the rocks. That thought made me laugh harder than it probably should have. Yes, these are the things I think when I see bloody, naked chicks stumbling down train tracks. I should probably seek professional help. What was I talking about anyway? Oh, Dead Woman’s Hollow. That’s right.
Another aspect of the flick that I found interesting, and kinda refreshing, is that there are no good guys among the main characters. Some of the townspeople, like the shopkeepers and secretaries, seem nice enough. The story focuses on the unsavory folks, though. As I said, the cops are pricks. Leroy, the killer, is kept mysterious. He has a great look, but he’s damn hard to understand sometimes. The ladies are competently played, but the characters are way too bitchy to elicit any kind of sympathy. The concerned boyfriend might have a violent history. The rednecks that bring one of the victims to the hospital even turn out to be assholes. Hell, everyone in this movie is a shade of gray. I like that approach.
One thing that I do have to call the movie out on is the editing. First of all, while they are traversing some really pretty terrain, there is entirely too much footage of the two female leads walking through the woods. That could have been tightened up by a couple of minutes at least. Second, some of the dialog scenes need some work. When there is a shot/reverse shot conversation, there will be a second too long between the previous line and the response. It makes the scenes play very awkwardly. This is most evident in the diner scene.
The diner scene! I almost forgot to talk about the diner scene. I’m not sure what was going on there, but it seemed like it was lifted from a completely different movie. The afore mentioned dialogue editing really gave it a bizarre feel. Then there is the performance of Dan Miller. I’m not sure what he was going for, but it’s completely bonkers. I’ve never seen him in anything else, but I kinda got the feeling that he’s being natural to an extent because I don’t see how those acting choices would make sense. I’m sure it’s intentionally comical, but it’s just so weird that when coupled with the strange pace set by the editing in the scene, it gives the scene a completely different atmosphere from anything that happens before or after it. It’s almost like it’s not happening in the same reality as the rest of the story. Although, I now feel compelled to track down the other two flicks he’s been in.
The flick does end with quite a bang. The final 9 minutes are a taut, engrossing, well-staged piece of cinema. Everything from the way the minimal lighting glistens off of the sweat on Charles Dawson’s head to the subtle desperation creeping up into Koran Dunbar’s bravado works together perfectly. It all leads up to a wonderfully downbeat and nihilistic as hell ending that did my cynical little heart good. Some people like for the good guys to win in their movies. Others prefer for the bad guys to win. There’s a place for both, but I always dig endings like this one where nobody wins.
Random Thought #1: The soundtrack works very well in the context of the film. Some of the musical choices were downright inspired.
Random Thought #2: The scene between the Sheriff and Ranger Swanson (think a backwoods bumbling R. Lee Ermy) is hilarious. Maybe my favorite moment of the flick.
Random Thought #3: It would have been nice to get a little more background on Leroy. Maybe see his lair or something.
Random Thought #4: The identity of the naked chick in the beginning is only mentioned twice in the middle of the movie, less than a minute apart. I don’t know if I sneezed or took a drink or the dog jumped on me or what, but I totally missed it. This, coupled with the batshit diner scene and one photographic inconsistency, led me to believe that this was some kind of Lynchian mindf**k with a character having multiple fates and being played by multiple actresses. A second viewing later, it all made sense. They really should have mentioned her at least one other time. On the other hand, I think I might have even liked it better when I thought it made no sense at all. Then again, I may or may not be nuttier than squirrel shit.Featuring a lot of the same talent behind a flick I really dug a couple of years ago called Leach, Dead Woman’s Hollow is a cool indie thriller. It’s got a few rough patches, but it more than makes up for those with a lot of heart, some good acting, atmosphere to spare, and a finale that will punch you in the gut. It’s also a flick with something to say if you read between the lines. Congratulations to Libby McDermott for turning out a movie that’s both dark and fun on her maiden voyage in the director’s chair. Now if I can just figure out what’s up with Dan. Hit up Dead Woman’s Hollow’s facebook page HERE to get your copy and SUPPORT INDEPENDENT HORROR. Seven entry wounds out of 10. Nathan says check it out. Oh, and remember what I said, ladies.