Monday 14 October 2019

The Village in the Woods (UK 2019: Dir Raine McCormack)

Jason and Rebecca drive out into the woods to claim their rightful inheritance: a rundown pub called 'the Harbour Inn' (although nowhere near water) left to Rebecca by her deceased aunt. Except that's not quite true: 'Rebecca' is actually Nikki: she and Jason have managed to acquire the documentation for the property by means of a shady woman from Jason's past, and Nikki has switched identities, hoping the others in the village won't notice. Nice try.

Once there, and with their car out of petrol, forcing them to stay the night, they encounter a rum group of locals, among them oversexed Maddy, fruity old Charles, and a strange ancient guy, Arthur, who seems to be occupying part of the pub they thought was all theirs, who is keen for them to leave immediately.

But the villagers want them to stay, as they have plans for the couple, particularly virginal Nikki.

There seems to be a bit of a trend for young-people-facing-older-people-who-look-nice-but-have-a-dark-side movies recently, and it's brave for first time feature director McCormack to add to the canon with only a few quid and some game actors at his disposal. The Village in the Woods starts off rather shakily but becomes more interesting the loonier it gets. The standout performances here are the older members of the cast, principally Therese Bradley as Maddy, who when she's not getting it on with Charles (established character actor Richard Hope) is trying it on with Jason (Robert Vernon).

You don't need to have watched many such movies to know exactly how this is going to turn out and both Jason and Nikki/Rebecca (a rather wooden Beth Park) are clearly just lambs to the satanic slaughter. We get some shots of a large beast like figure - and a nifty transformation scene that sort of explains who he is - and the predictable final reel coven stuff. But it's neither as saucy or as gory as it signposted, and ends incredibly abruptly.

Where it does score points is in overall atmosphere, helped by a moody score which avoids string synthesising the thing to death and is confident in its use of quiet moments (very rare in low budget movies these days): there are also some nicely done woozy sequences where you're not really sure what's real or not (the 'seduction' scene in Rosemary's Baby (1968) came to mind) which bring a rather good folk-horrorish feel to things.

The director has mentioned that his intention with The Village in the Woods was to make a return to slowburn horror films: he's only really half succeeded. But, without wishing to damn by faint praise, I've seen a lot worse, and there are enough little details and flourishes here to make me want to look out for McCormack's next movie. And someone should really give Maddy a spin off film of her own, she's such good value.

The Village in the Woods is available on demand and download across all major digital platforms from 14th October including iTunes, Sky Store, Amazon and Google Play