A group of friends take a trip together to a local music festival in hopes of rekindling their friendship that’s falling apart. On the way, they decide to stay overnight in the woods of a small town. While the locals seem unusual, everything else appears to be fine until the friends learn about a local legend regarding the woods they’re staying in. A legend that’s all too real.
Last year we reported on “The Devil’s Woods” — one of the latest independent horror features to be produced in Ireland — and recently we had a freshly cut copy of Anthony White’s movie arrive at our doorstep. Not having heard much on the film since that initial report, it was hard to guess what “The Devil’s Woods” was going to be about. With some fresh faces both in-front and behind the camera, it was surprising to see that the movie turned out to be a return to the old classic gothic-folk horror movie.
While I was looking forward to sitting down and watching “The Devil’s Woods” I couldn’t help but expect a backwoods slasher by the title. It’s usually the default subgenre for budding filmmakers because it’s relatively easy — minimal locations, minimal cast, and lack of possible disruption. It turned out to be a very pleasant surprise that “The Devil’s Woods” took more of a risk and went in the direction of classic European horror. You could argue that “The Devil’s Woods” is still technically a backwoods slasher, but in reality, Anthony and his team tapped into that traditional mix of folk tales and gothic ambiance of the isolated country side.
I can’t help but feel that people will be quick to criticize the film for the fact that it’s a slow burner where not much happens up until the final 20 minutes. However, in my opinion, I think Anthony found a way to utilize his film’s brief runtime efficiently by properly building up the atmosphere. And in hindsight, I didn’t even realize how much time we spent with our main cast and no one else until after the movie was over. It goes on unnoticed because the movie uses little moments to exploit a feeling of unease — where you walk into the local tavern and it feels like every eye is upon you.
And it’s tough for me to get into what made “The Devil’s Woods” work so well for me because it would be very easy to spoil the movie and ruin what it builds up to. “The Devil’s Woods” is one of those movies where the less you know the better the viewing experience will be. Instead, I will say that it uses the slow burn method correctly by focusing on the atmosphere — in this case, that sense of dread from being in a isolated area — and finding windows in which to create tension that doesn’t expose the direction that the movie/story is heading in. It becomes a satisfying viewing experience by the end because it goes from slow burning tension to boiling over with the climax.
With the Irish New Wave feeling like it’s dying down — at the very least, it doesn’t feel as predominant as it did a few years ago — it was good to watch “The Devil’s Woods” to see that there’s still plenty of talent to find amongst Ireland’s independent scene. Anthony White’s feature film debut hit on all the right notes for me as a viewer and produced a low-key, minimalist movie that was enjoyable to watch. “The Devil’s Woods” is a great mix of folk and gothic horror that focuses on atmosphere — the movie’s style is familiar but still has its own identity and isn’t simply a rehashed tale from yesteryear.