November 2010. Three people disappeared on Dartmoor. What you are about to see is found footage. That’s the gist of the opening titles so yes we’re watching a “found footage” film about people in a the woods. You could be forgiven for thinking “Blair Witch was thirteen years ago do directors really think it a good idea to keep scraping that barrel”. In this case director Richard Parry (director of South West 9 and the interesting Dale Farm: The Big Eviction).
Couple Brody and Kerry are taking a weekend trip to the moors of Dartmoor. On the way there they pick up Kerry’s cousin Leo. Tension builds between Brody and Leo as they attempt to assert their superiority. As night falls the group disintegrates and the darkness brings untold horrors on the group.
Reading the synopsis before watching A Night in the Woods I hoped that it may have been a pastiche of the recent slurry of found footage horror films. It’s not a bad genre and when done just write can be some of the creepiest cinema out there today. The flip side is that all you need is a cheap camera, some actor friends with a free weekend and a location, say a field, that you don’t have to pay for. Then anyone can make anything. Cliches are already easy to spot, especially in films involving unseen ghouls, the fact that this is so derivative of The Blair Witch Project it couldn’t be anything but a parody.
Unfortunately it’s not. Starting off in a domestic setting reminiscent of Kill List we find Brody (Scott McNairy) and Kerry (Anna Skellern) very much in love. For a reason that is never fully explained Brody feels the need to record every little thing. This may lead you to think “why would you record this?” several times. Shots range from looking overly stylised and set up to being so off-kilter it’s hard to see anything. Often with found footage films though you have to put these worries aside. Things aren’t so rosy with the arrival of Leo (Andrew Hawley). Despite being Kerry’s cousin Brody takes an instant dislike for their new companion. Is he really her cousin or is there something more to Kerry and Leo’s relationship? This plot thread is swept aside for a moment as the trio visit a local pub where for no real reason every one in the pub talk about devils being up on the moors. The film suddenly turns into a talking head documentary as colourful types talk about occult happenings. At one point in what has to be the comedy highlight of the year a native actually says the line “you don’t believe me? You come in here in your shiny car, with your green wellies. What do you know?” I couldn’t believe that line has actually been included in a “serious” horror in 2012.
Apparently there was no script and the actors improvised through scene set ups much in the same way that Curb Your Enthusiasm is made. Once the threesome are out on the moor there are plenty of scenes of them fooling around with the camera which looks terribly arty. Everyone also uses time to treat the camera as a confessional booth telling it and us their little secrets. It’s a lazy well of feeding the audience information. Brody on several occasions decides to sit down with the camera and provide an almost Shakespearean monologue. All three leads are very good and in their respect roles they all manage to convince. McNairy and Hawley play the dual personas of the nice guy/arsehole well and Skellern does angry and terrified convincingly. But with the dialogue left largely to them scenes become stuttering matches. The characters repeating questions at each other which may seem naturalistic but on film comes off as annoying. The horror aspect of the film – which comes in the form of shaky tents, odd noises and nooses hanging from trees – feels like an afterthought. Whilst it is a nice touch that it is never explained whether the terrors facing the group are supernatural or mind games perpetrated by Leo or Brody it still feels like an odd tangent for what has essentially been a drama till this point. There are a few effective shock scares as Kerry runs screaming through the woods after the homicidal looking Leo and Brody have run of themselves. Overall the horror is practically non-existent, good night sleeps are guaranteed.
The whole time watching A Night in the Woods I could not get one question out of my mind. Why is Leo there at all? As we discover; he is Kerry’s ex who she seems to be having some kind of affair with. Brody suspects this. Why in her right mind would Kerry decide to go out into the middle of the moors with her boyfriend and her affair. What possible reason could she have to do that? Even lying that Leo is her “cousin”, she really couldn’t be away from him for a few days. It is one almighty plot hole which I just could not get my head around. It’s as if the three characters made up this character arc whilst out filming in the moors with out much thought as to whether it made sense plot wise.
Despite the spirited performances by the three leads the script is far too weak dramatically or horrifically to make a compelling watch. Even at 76minutes A Night in the Woods feels long. Adding nothing to the genre of found footage horror it’s one that will pass with out much notice. Had it gone the route of parody it may have been far more successful. The making-of accompanying the DVD release is a far more interesting watch than the film itself.