An idyllic stay in the Spanish countryside takes a nightmarish turn for two couples when they discover a feral girl chained inside an abandoned house and decide to turn her over to the authorities. But the real drama begins when locals armed with shotguns show up looking for the girl. BAFTA winners Gary Oldman and Paddy Considine (In America, Cinderella Man) co-star in this backwoods thriller from Spanish writer-director Koldo Serra.
Backwoods is a fantastic Spanish film that quite obviously owes much to Deliverance and Straw Dogs in the way of mood and cinematography. It is homage to the exploitation and natural survival films of the 70’s. The characters in this film keep with their characterization the entire film and give them all a continuity of realism very rarely seen in today’s American cinema. In a short time the characters were fleshed out and maintained the characteristics that helped you relate to them and how they reacted during the events of this thriller.
I also want to commend the screenwriters, Koldo Serra and Jon Sagala, for giving the main characters a noble purpose behind the actions, instead of a film about revenge it was about the protection of an innocent. This film covers everything needed for a complex plot full of conflict. There is man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus himself.
The story begins in the backwoods of Spain in 1978. Norman (Paddy Considine) and Paul (Gary Oldman) are taking their wives out to see Norman’s newly renovated house that once belonged to his Grandmother. Norman went on this trip thinking that it might smooth over some of the marital problems he has been having with his wife. Norman’s strained relationship with his wife, Lucy (Virginie Ledoyan), seems to be a constant throughout the film, though. Similar to Burt Reynolds’s character in Deliverance, Paul is a well-off businessman with the heart of a frontier pioneer, shown as he successfully hunts a rabbit in the woods. During this hunting trip Paul and Norman encounter a girl with deformed hands locked inside a small house in the woods.
The girl is filthy and acts as if she’s a wild animal. Norman and Paul take her back to their house and everyone wonders who could commit these atrocities to this young girl. Predictably, the girls “caretakers” approach the door asking Paul if they have seen her. Paul and Norman met these men earlier in the film when they stopped to get a drink at the nearest town and were not pleased with their attitude towards outsiders. Paul goes out with the rag-tag locals to “help them find the young girl” trying to lead them away from the house so Norman could bring the girl down to the police.
Norman instead decides to stay put and is again at odds with his wife. Norman goes outside for a walk not anticipating two of the locals coming into the house while he was away. The situation escalates as one of the locals tries to rape Lucy. Norman returns shotgun in hand and blows away the local. Things get more heated with Paul out in the woods as well. Eventually, Paul and Paco, the leader of the Spanish locals argue and Paul disgusted with Paco reveals that he has the girl. Suddenly, Paul is hit over the head with the butt of a gun. Woozy and about to be locked up just as the child had been Paul run for his life and is continually shot at despite Paco’s insistence of that his cohorts stop shooting. Paul is shot in the ear. Paul fights back and even kills one of his attackers, but finally is stopped. Meanwhile, Norman starts the trek to turn the girl over to the police hopefully giving the girl a better life. Norman and the girls travel miles through the rain with Paco and the locals behind them.
Just like the vigilante exploitation and survival films from the 70’s The Backwoods is essentially a tale of survival. Norman who always had trouble making decision and dealing with his problems is thrust into a situation where he needs to protect an innocent human life. These movies always test the audience’s faith in themselves. What if I had been put into this scenario? Would I have given up the girl? These are scary thoughts that fiction can make us face in ourselves. I need to address one thing; I have never seen Sam Peckinpaw’s Straw Dogs (I know I know it’s on my list to see), but according to online sources, some scenes were identical, shot for shot, to those in Straw Dogs. I don’t think this was out of line for the filmmaker. I think it is perfectly acceptable to pay tribute to a genius like Peckinpaw in such a way.