DECEMBER 16, 2016
A while back, I saw a film called Hidden in the Woods, which was seemingly designed to offend as many viewers as possible, or at least inspire some self-righteous asshole to try to resurrect the Video Nasties list. I wouldn't say I loved the film or anything, but I appreciated its sheer audacity, throwing everything from incest to cannibalism at you and never letting another five minutes go by without another gory (mostly practical) murder scene. I'd never want to watch it again, but at least I was engaged on some level, which is more than I can say for Sendero (aka Path), which also hails from Chile and also tosses a lot of these same elements at you, albeit without much of the bravado. Where Hidden was laudable in its rampant disregard for human life and basic taste, this just seems like yet another ripoff of Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the like, with only fleeting moments of inspiration to keep it from being a total waste of time.
At least writer/director Lucio A. Rojas doesn't waste time either letting us know what kind of movie we're seeing, or making us wait to get to the horror stuff - our heroine and her pals are more or less introduced making plans for a drive, the car breaks down at the ten minute mark, and they run afoul of the bad guys shortly after that. No points for originality, but at least they score high marks for efficiency, I guess. Unfortunately, just because he was in a rush doesn't mean he had anything new to show us, and the next hour is little more than a series of chase scenes where they try to escape. To its credit, there isn't a lot of torture-y stuff - on the rare occasions anyone is tied up it usually isn't for long, and most of the people who die in the film (on either side) do so quickly. It's not particularly unpleasant, in other words, so if you're turned off by torture stuff but are in the mood for one of these things, it can at least offer you that much.
But man, if a scene goes by that doesn't make you think of another, superior film, it's because you weren't paying enough attention. Chain Saw is an obvious one, but they dip into Mother's Day, Frontieres, a mild touch of Martyrs (or Texas Chainsaw 4 - basically some rich asshole shows up and calls the shots, but they don't explain much about him) and even Calvaire for a bit. That last one is the most intriguing; while one of the captors does the usual gross things to the females, groping and licking them (but always getting stopped by one of his partners before going any further), his brother (?) has a thing for the males instead, and pleasures himself while standing over one after rubbing his chest a bit. Then the other guy stops HIM from going any further, and punishes him by raping him (though he doesn't put up much of a fight, if any). I've seen innumerable male on female rape scenes in these things, but apart from Calvaire (which was much more vague, if memory serves) I can't recall male on male, so... there's something, I guess? But merely putting a male in a spot usually reserved for females (and making the victim one of the villains as opposed to a protagonist) doesn't really change things that much - it's still yet another rape scene in a horror movie that could have used that screentime on something more interesting.
However, all of this could be forgiven, or at least given a pass, if not for the film's biggest sin: its editing. Rojas is the culprit here as well (though Cristian Toledo is co-credited), and I don't know if they just didn't have the footage to cut things together or were going for a certain effect that didn't quite land, but either way it was some truly abysmal work. There are at least two occasions where he is cutting between two action scenes (a fight in the house and a chase scene outside, for example), and there is zero rhythm to how it's presented - the back and forth seems more random than anything, keeping us from being engaged by either scenario, let alone both at once. And in one such instance a character seemingly teleports from one situation to another, suggesting these were separate scenes that played out normally, but spliced together to try to intensify things or something. He also fails more than once to clearly show us important details, like when Ana and her boyfriend stumble upon a truck with a family inside, and ask them for help. Rojas never cuts to the family's faces, so we're not even sure how many of them there are - and thus we just have to assume the little girl that appears out of nowhere a few minutes later was in the truck/is the daughter of the driver. No film is perfect and there are always going to be shots the director missed, but the idea is to keep the audience from ever noticing that, and they really drop the ball in that department.
Speaking of the family, one of the film's unintentionally most entertaining elements is how many good Samaritans are killed throughout the runtime. Since our heroes are almost always on the run, they are constantly stumbling across random people who live in the town (an isolated ranch/farm kinda place), and they're always murdered by the bad guys moments later. In fact, I'm pretty sure more random innocent people are killed than there were in the protagonist group to begin with, which might be a record since most movies only opt for one, MAYBE two such characters (usually a passing motorist or a cop answering a call). But in what becomes true Rojas form by the end of the film, it's unclear who actually murders the last one - it might be one of the bad guys we've met, but the way it's shot and from the vague hints we get that the bad guys are powerful/wide-reaching (so we get a bit of Hostel, too?), it could be a new antagonist brought in to help clean up the mess or whatever. The movie just randomly ends here, which would annoy me if I was at all invested in it.
At least the gore FX are satisfying; Rojas clearly knows that prosthetics are the best and offers a number of sufficiently goopy and bloodied corpses and body parts. There's a pretty great head bashing that rivals Dave Foy's (unrated!) death in Hatchet II, and a wonderful sight gag where a guy's skin is torn off and we see his heart (I think?) pumping since he's not actually dead yet. It's interesting that many of the low/no budget foreign horror films I see tend to make sure they don't skimp in this department like their American counterparts, though when you consider the usual excuse you hear for going digital (no time to do it right) and look at all of the editing blunders on display here, you can't help but wonder if the Americans have a point. Would Rojas have had time to get all those reverse angles and inserts if he wasn't lovingly showing a fake head getting bashed in? Perhaps, but would the movie actually be any good with better editing? Less likely; it might be less puzzling at times, but it'd still lack any decent ideas or exciting plot turns. Maybe not every viewer will have seen so many of these things, but I am willing to bet there will be very, very few who manage to get surprised at a single thing in it anyway.
What say you?