JANUARY 6, 2013
A couple weeks ago I watched a pair of screeners from Osiris and found them to be pretty good movies, so I was excited to find another in my pile. Alas, the streak did not continue, as Monsters In The Woods is a pretty bad movie; the sort of thing that starts off troubling, gets worse as it goes, and eventually has me yelling "WHY DO I WATCH THIS SHIT?" at my TV.
First order of business: how about we give the "Low budget movie crew finds themselves in a real life horror tale" concept a rest, for at least, oh... 30 years. Yeah, 30 years should be enough time to either forget about the stereotypes or maybe create some new ones, since all of these movies have the same jokes. The frustrated director, the slimy producer, the pretentious (fill in any role here), the amateur acting, etc. And they all begin the same way, with a cheesy, generic kill scene that plays out in its entirety before someone yells "CUT!" and we learn that we saw was just the movie in the movie (I always love how long these scenes are - gotta be one hell of a master shot to get everything from the two people having sex in a tent all the way to the girl being killed in the woods).
The completely botched approach to showing "how movies are made" is only part of the problem in these things. The other is the simple fact that watching people make a movie isn't all that interesting to most - there's a reason why so many directors joke that no one listens to their commentary tracks. The most common listener of a commentary or viewer of a making of piece is a die hard film buff, the sort who would be able to see how phony these movies are. Or, someone who isn't much into movies but loves this particular movie might watch the stuff if they happened to buy the special edition DVD, and that certainly won't be the case for a fake movie inside one that's no better. Maybe with a cast full of people we love it might have some interest, but even that rarely yields any big hits. Scream 3 is the only success in horror, and that had the built in audience and a big cast of familiar faces (plus the movie-making aspect was kept to a minimum compared to these others) on its side - Monsters in the Woods' only familiar face is Glenn Plummer, and he's barely even in it.
But that's actually the least of this movie's problems, oddly enough. For the first 35 minutes we have to suffer through this sort of stuff, and most of it is depicted with a behind the scenes camera to boot (though not always, and it's difficult to tell when we're seeing someone's POV and when it's just bad camerawork - there's an on-screen display for some shots, but not always), giving the movie the sad distinction of being part of TWO overused gimmicks. But then it switches, and we not only switch permanently to a typical filmmaking style, but also start following two brand new lead characters who come out of nowhere and start bickering about their preferred weapons. Wait, what?
To be fair I can see what writer/director Jason Horton is going for here - he's trying to pull a Psycho, basically. I won't waste time explaining that he's not quite Hitchcock when it comes to the directorial skill on display, but I will point out that it works there because when it switches we HAVE met Anthony Perkins already, and have gotten a bit invested in his sad predicament. But these folks come out of nowhere; imagine if Marion was killed in the shower and then the first time we ever meet Norman Bates is when Arbogast comes to ask him if he's seen her, and it STILL wouldn't be as clunky and confusing as the switch is presented here.
Still, I held out hope that it would work once I adjusted, since the movie wasn't halfway over yet and most of the annoying characters were dead. Alas, it just gets worse, since these new folks bring along a wealth of nonstop gobbledygook that doubles as the movie's backstory, which more or less boils down to a Supernatural-esque tale of these two folks (our Sam and Dean) trying to keep a bunch of demons at bay. I won't spoil the specifics, but it involves a set number of victims, a dumb motive, and even more exposition about how to stop them, who can stop them, etc. Every time yet another "rule" was laid in place, I couldn't help but think back to the great Onion article about the terrible author who kept invoking something called "Quantum Flux" every time he wrote himself into a corner. Seriously, read that article's description of how he keeps using it to explain what came before - it's exactly the way things happen here. like when someone apparently dies, and then comes back and explains that they can't be killed that way.
It's also awkwardly made throughout, particularly with regards to the monsters, who are thankfully guys in suits but are never seen clearly - it's all weird closeups and things coming in at the corners of the frames. Kills are the same way, and often poorly executed even off-camera - one guy walks under a crane (and then off camera as we hold on the guy operating it), and we see that it dips about four inches, and this somehow bludgeons him to death. Yes, yes, low budget, blah blah... I pulled off better kills in high school with my friends. Not that the kills are the be all and end all measure for a horror movie's success, but when it's a monster movie about demons that need to kill 12 people to take over the world (or whatever the hell), maybe 3-4 of them can be pretty good? Otherwise, just retrofit your script for your budget - 30k is about what the Blair Witch guys had, and they didn't ruin their own movie trying to do things that were well beyond their means. Mike standing in the damn corner is scarier than anything they come up with here.
In short, the budget certainly didn't help, but it's hardly the movie's only issue. You don't need a lot of money to tell a story properly/coherently, or introduce characters in a manner that won't make us think our DVD had skipped 10 minutes, or to put a goddamn pillow under a crane so you can let it "crash" (OFF CAMERA to boot!) to the ground when it's supposedly killing a major character. Good title though.
What say you?