Lucky McKee's "The Woods" was one of the most eagerly awaited films of 2004-2005, as it was the follow up to the critically acclaimed "May," one of the best horror films of 2003.
When it was learned that "The Woods" was being delayed for theatrical release during the sale of MGM to Sony (MGM owned the rights to the movie), the word was that the studio was blowing it. It had a "May"-level horror classic on its hands that it was letting slip through the cracks.
Sadly, however, the film speaks for itself. Despite the nice presence of Bruce Campbell, in a distracting cameo role as a heroic Ash-like Dad, "The Woods" fails both as a horror movie and as a movie with a storyline that makes any sense. Gone are the wit, leisurely pace, great performances and great characters that "May" had. One-dimensional characters, uninteresting performances and a story that make little sense all badly mar "The Woods," perhaps making it one of the most disappointing sophomore efforts in recent horror history.
At an evil 1960s all-girl boarding school situated smack dab in the middle of, you guessed it, some woods, a new student (Agnes Bruckner) with a psychic talent becomes the target of great interest of the school's evil-looking headmistress. Campbell shows up early on as the girl's Dad.
It isn't long before other students start disappearing, of course, and, like in "Blood and Lace," the headmistress doesn't report the disappearances to the local cops. We also learn that the school may have had a run-in with three witches some time ago. Oh yeah, there's also something evil lurking in the woods around the school.
McKee tries to infuse his girl's boarding school with the same kind of dread and menace we saw in classics like "Blood and Lace," "Suspiria" and "The House That Screamed," but fails because it doesn't become clear what the menace is exactly until the last moments of the movie. All three of those earlier films had blood-thirsty killers on the loose – a pretty effective and obvious menace to keep us in suspense while their stories and mysteries unfolded. "Woods" could have used a good killer. Instead we get the usual modern-day rapid-editing nightmares to try to scare us while we try to comprehend the plot.
Low on gore and produced apparently for the PG-13 market, it even lacks the all-essential "twist ending" requisite for non-R-rated fear films. The only interesting thing about this movie winds up being Bruce Campbell, who re-appears Ash-style to rescue his daughter from the woods and witches in the last scenes. An entire movie around him battling witch-run boarding schools would have been much more interesting.
Had someone else directed "The Woods," the film wouldn't feel like such a travesty. It would be just another mediocre fear film on the level of "Darkness Falls." But "May" was awesome, and seeing McKee direct something this bad makes one wonder if he was able to see the woods for the trees this time around.
I usually agree with your taste, but I really dug this movie. It's not as extreme or scary as "May", it's relatively tame, but it's well-done and interesting. It's certainly not a mediocre kids' movie like "Darkness Falls". It's not only set in the past, it feels like a throwback to films of that (1965) era. It's got the kind of atmosphere you'd see in movies from that time, and I thought the acting was good all around. It's certainly not a classic, but it's a solid, better-than-average movie. Especially when compared to the rest of the PG-13 garbage heap.
Rank this film on a '666 scale' of one to six (left to right). Based on 1953 votes.